Takeda Shingen


Kanji: 武田 信玄

Dates: December 1, 1521 – May 13, 1573

Other Names: Katsuchiyo (childhood name), Harunobu (formal name), “The Tiger of Kai”

Takeda clan crest

Takeda clan mon

Takeda Shingen was a famous and powerful daimyo who ruled over the Province of Kai. He is most famous today for his rivalry with the warlord, Uesugi Kenshin of Echigo, who he fought on numerous occasions. He was a master strategist and was known for vigorous use of ninjas and spies.

Born on December 1, 1521, Takeda Shingen was the eldest son of Takeda Nobutora, and was a descendant of Minamoto Yoshimitsu, a relative of Japan’s first shōgun, Minamoto Yoshitomo. His father favored his younger brother, Nobushige, and picked him to succeed the clan. Shingen was obviously displeased with this, for he staged a coup against his father in July 1541. Shingen was successful in the endeavor and sent his father into exile in the Province of Suraga.

Once in control of the clan, Shingen turned his attention to a coalition of daimyo who controlled the Shinano region, beginning his campaign with the Battle of Sezawa in April 1542. He continued his expansion into Shinano for the next four years, but reached a setback when he was defeated by Murakami Yoshikiyo at the Battle at Uedahara in February 1548. This setback was temporary, for he defeated the last of the Murakami clan in 1551.

In 1551, Takeda Shingen had conquered most of the Shinano region. Also in 1551, he became a Buddhist monk, changing his name from “Harunobu” to “Shingen”, which would be the name that became the most famous.

From the years 1553 to 1564, Takeda Shingen turned his attention to Uesugi Kenshin, who he clashed with five times at Kawanakajima. All of these battles were costly and indecisive. The first three battles were more like skirmishes, but the fourth was the battle that made their rivalry legendary. The Fourth Battle of Kawanakajima, which took place in October 1561, was one of the bloodiest battles fought in Japanese history. It was costly for both parties involved, however, the mass causalities was only one of the reasons why this battle became so famous. Uesugi Kenshin launched a surprise attack on Shingen’s main camp. Shingen was taken by surprise, and managed to hold of the horse-riding commander with just his tessen (war fan).

Despite being rivals, Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin respected one another, which can be seen in the “Salt Incident”. During one of the Kawanakajima campaigns, the neighboring clan of the Hōjō cut off Shingen’s supply of salt. When Kenshin got word, he criticized the Hōjō and sent Shingen some salt from his own supply, saying that “I do not fight with salt, but with the sword.”

After the Battles of Kawanakajima, Shingen completely took over the Shinano region and moved to conquer Kozuke and Musashi in 1564. In 1568, he launched a campaign against the Hōjō and Imagawa clans. By November 1572, he crushed the remains of the Imagawa clan. Shingen was one of the few daimyos who had the power to take on Oda Nobunaga, and he was able to give Nobunaga a minor defeat by defeating his ally, Tokugawa Ieyasu at Mikatagahara in January 1573.

When it comes to the death of Takeda Shingen, there is a bit of mystery. It is unclear about his cause of death. Some sources claim that he died of natural causes. Others claim it was illness. Another claims that he was shot and killed at the Siege of Noda Castle. There is a consistency when it comes to his death. The followers of Takeda Shingen were made to keep quiet about his death. Some sources claim that it was over a year, while others claim it was three years. The information must have been leaked, for his son, Katsuyori, took over the clan and led them to their humiliating defeat against the Oda-Tokugawa Alliance at Nagashino in 1575.

The whereabouts of Takeda Shingen’s remains is still a mystery. There is one account dating from 1659 that claims that Shingen ordered his son to dump his remains into Lake Suwa. In a routine sonar survey of the lake in 1986, something resembling a large man-made object appeared on the lake bed. Many believe that this is the final resting place of the Tiger of Kai.