by Joseph Ryan

In the secluded, mountainous province of Kai, the Takeda clan ruled. They were well governed and powerful, and their cavalry charge was known throughout Japan. The ruler at the time was Takeda Shingen. In 1572 he invaded a nearby province called Mikawa, which was governed by Tokugawa Ieyasu. Ieyasu was thereby defeated at Mikata-ga-hara. Shingen continued his campaign but it was cut short by his death. His son, Takeda Katsuyori, inherited his father's throne (Turnbull 9-10). These two men, Shingen and Katsuyori, were the last rulers of their clan. What was the most influential reason for the fall of the Takeda clan?

In 1546, Takeda Katsuyori was born. His mother was the daughter of Suwa Yorishige, a man who Shingen had killed. Yorishige's daughter became one of Shingen's wives, even though she also happened to be his niece. Shingen loved her so much, that Katsuyori became his favorite son. Katsuyori became successor, only after his older brother's death. Katsuyori also had fought at Mikata-ga-hara and was a good leader. (Turnbull 12).

Katsuyori wanted to finish his father's workings in Mikawa against the Tokugawa, and follow what he had done (Turnbull 10, 28). This is where the spark of the fire that would burn the clan was wrought. He wanted to equal his father and his father's status and achievements prodded him to attempt it at all costs (10, 28). Katsuyori left Kai in 1575 and planned to attack the Tokugawa capital: Okazaki. Katsuyori had found a traitor within its walls who was willing to let them take the castle and help. Just as Katsuyori neared the outskirts of the province, he heard that Oga Yashiro, the traitor, was decapitated.

Without such help, Katsuyori would have been unable to take the castle. His army's size was not great enough. Katsuyori didn't want to leave the province without some sort of conquest. He was afraid that it would ruin the Takeda name and shame him (Turnbull 10, 28-29). This led him further down the road of the failure of his clan.

He attacked two minor castles, Ushikubo and Nirengi, and worked his way to Yoshida castle. Ieyasu himself was inside, and the castle held. Katsuyori was afraid for his clan's sake, and his own name's sake. He couldn't leave without taking castles and defeating the Tokugawa, as his father had done (Turnbull 10, 28-29, 30-31). This is where the clan actually starts to decline. It began with Katsuyori's over-ambitiousness. Nagashino castle wasn't far away. It would be of good use to the Takeda clan. Katsuyori decided on taking it (Turnbull 10, 30-31).

Katsuyori attacked Nagashino and the castle withheld. There were 500 men inside the castle, led by Okudaira Sadamasa, and 15,000 outside, led by the heir to the Takeda clan, himself. The castle secretly got word to Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu. Katsuyori held a meeting with his generals to decide what to do. The older ones from Shingen's day voted for retreating, while the younger generals wanted to stay and fight (Turnbull 35-52). Katsuyori's decision would seal their fate, whether to stay safe and retreat, or try to stay and crush their oncoming enemies. Katsuyori sided with the generals who wished to stay and fight (Turnbull 48-52). This was another step in the wrong direction. The odds of defeating Nagashino castle were in Katsuyori's, and his numerically greater army's, favor, 30-1, yet he hadn't done so. Katsuyori wanted to fight the Oda and Tokugawa armies, because they were, first off, enemies. Secondly, the Tokugawa had been defeated 3 years earlier by his father. He would rather have fought and lost than have run (Turnbull 9,11, 48-49). While this seems to be honorable and on the pretenses of not being dishonored, it was against the odds that were placed against him winning to this army, twice his size. The opposing army had 38,000 men, while Katsuyori attacked with 15,000.

The generals, who had carried over from Shingen to Katsuyori, also switched their loyalty from Shingen to Katsuyori. They would follow their leader into a battle in which the outcome looked grim, and now, in retrospect, a battle that seemed suicidal (Turnbull 12, 13, 48-52). Losing such great members of the Takeda clan would eventually throw administration and military affairs into confusion and disarray. Tokugawa Ieyasu and Oda Nobunaga quickly came to help. A couple miles from Nagashino, they set up at the Shidarahara plain. They created a long fence, in three segments, behind which they were to place 3,000 arquebusiers (Turnbull 53, 60-61).

Katsuyori had 3000 men remain at Nagashino castle to guard it, while he led the rest of his army, 12,000 men, to the Shidarahara plain. Both armies faced each other from across the plain, indirectly, if not directly. Katsuyori ordered the cavalry charge, and his horsemen flooded the field. After crossing a river that separated them, the Takeda horses and foot soldiers, who trailed behind, approached the fences. Katsuyori was not as worried about all the firearms as he should have been. The fact that it had rained the previous night, possibly causing the firearms to be useless, and over-estimating the speed of his horsemen upon the fences, should not have comforted him so about the charge.

When the Takeda men had finally come within distance, the Oda and Tokugawa arquebusiers shot at them. The cavalry and men who had so bravely charged the enemy were now being stopped and killed. Maybe Katsuyori had not expected the formation and movement of the gunners. They were in 3 rows and would alternate upon shot (Turnbull 56, 66-67). The two armies fought for hours, with the horsemen charging and being pushed back by the protected riflemen. Then Katsuyori sent his whole force to attack (Turnbull 56, 66-67, 76-79). Katsuyori now displayed his desperateness and the thinning of the clan's strength. The Oda and Tokugawa armies now rushed past the fences and met the Takeda men. They fought using hand to hand combat, which lasted for even more hours (56, 66-67, 76-79).

The opposing army pulled back inside the fences and Katsuyori, also, ordered a small retreat. Oda Nobunaga saw his actions, and sent his army forth. They followed the Takeda army and caught up with them, killing many. Katsuyori escaped, and fled back into Kai. The death toll of the Takeda force reached 10,000 men, while the Oda-Tokugawa forces lost 6,000. Many of the generals who were Shingen's followers, and vital parts to the Takeda system, were dead (Turnbull 79-81). Katsuyori now protected Kai and Shinano, his other province, and lasted for another 7 years. Katsuyori's men were leaving him and he was losing their trust. Castles he held were also falling (Turnbull 81-82). Katsuyori's clan was now indeed falling apart and in shambles, but it was nothing compared to what was to come.

In 1582, the Oda-Tokugawa men, again facing Katsuyori, invaded Kai. Katsuyori, and his last loyal men, and family fled. The enemy attacked Katsuyori at Temmokuzan, and his army was defeated. Takeda Katsuyori and his family, including his heir, committed suicide (81-82).

Some blame Katsuyori for the end of the Takeda because of the military mistakes, misjudgments and possible over-zealousness to fill his father's shoes (Fujimoto 1). Also, the prospect of annihilating the Oda-Tokugawa forces, his and his father's enemies, must have been too tantalizing for him to retreat, which could have saved the clan (2nd Seal 1). Yamaji Aizan said, "The destruction of his clan was not his fault, for man's fate is 90% luck, and when the destiny of a province is to be conquered one man cannot save it..." (Sadler 97). Whether such an opinion quote is true, is not for man to say.

Others believe that once Takeda Shingen, Katsuyori's father, had died, that the clan was doomed, and not only from Katsuyori's mistakes. The above quote by Yamaji Aizan could lead one to think just as much. Takeda Shingen, like his son, was the ruler of Kai and Shinano and a few other provinces. As earlier stated, Shingen had invaded Mikawa and defeated Ieyasu at Mikata-ga-hara. Winter came, and he could not continue his conquest easily, so he decided to return the following year, which he did (Turnbull 9).

In 1573, the following year, he attacked one of Ieyasu's castles, Noda. Shingen used siege warfare against the castle. One night, the men within the castle used up their remaining sake' and partied. They had music also. Shingen heard the flutist playing, and approached the castle. He wanted to hear it. A sniper, from within the castle, shot Shingen. He ended up dying days later (Turnbull 9-10).

Shingen was a great warrior and a good leader. He administered his provinces with great skill. He was, at times, though, very strict and cruel with lawbreakers and insubordinates, but also taxed all of his people evenly. One of his greatest rivals was a man named Uesugi Kenshin. They fought each other several times (1st Seal 5-6).

Because of what some would call his military genius, he was an extraordinary military ruler, and these were few and far between. Children may not automatically inherit their parents' talents, and neither did a Takeda heir match up to the skill of Takeda Shingen. Not that Katsuyori inheriting the throne was the exact problem, but that, even if he did not, and if it were some other heir, could he have matched Shingen and carried out his father's policies? The fact that Shingen was so great in his affairs is summed up by Oliver Statler: "...the destinies of the clan fell into the hands of Shingen's son, who was not the man his father had been" (Statler 17). That his son, who was still a good leader of samurai, was not the man his father was, who could be? It would take a lot to fill Takeda Shingen's shoes.

Shingen, being dead, left his system of government and administration of Kai and his other provinces to his heir. If Katsuyori was a terrible leader, then the clan's doom could be simply his fault. But Katsuyori was not a terrible leader, even though when he did make mistakes, he made big ones. If Shingen had not died and Katsuyori took over with Shingen retiring, then Katsuyori might have ruled well, because Shingen's death sent a shockwave throughout his provinces. It was almost a state of panic. This suddenly left his son with a piece of government designed specifically by his father and for his father. It would be difficult for one to adapt. One side of this argument states that Katsuyori's bad military leadership at Nagashino was the cause of the downfall, the other side is Shingen's death. Shingen is said to have stated "People are the stone walls, people are the castles." Shingen did not build many castles because he did not believe in them and did not really use them, but Katsuyori did, and some thought that this could mean trouble for the clan (West 1). Both leaders were well trained and experienced and were doing well in military matters. That all of a sudden their clan disappeared is both sad and shocking. The only way it would have been seen, in such severity, is now, in retrospect.

Shingen's death was the most influential reason for the downfall of his clan. Even though Katsuyori failed miserably at Nagashino and beyond, such panic and shaky ground within Katsuyori's administration and land could only have been caused by the death of one of Kai's greatest leaders. (**AfterNote, a year after I wrote it, this is a questionable statement, please do not consider me a Shingen-ite.)


1. Turnbull, Stephen. Nagashino 1575. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2000.
2. Sadler, A. L. The Maker of Modern Japan; the Life of Tokugawa Ieyasu.
London: G. Allen and Unwin, Ltd., 1937.
3. West, C. E. "Takeda Shingen." 9-26-03.
4. Seal, F. W. "The History of the Takeda." 9-26-03.
(1st source by Seal)
5. Seal, F. W. "Takeda Katsuyori." 9-26-03.
(2nd source by Seal)
6. Statler, Oliver. Japanese Inn. New York: Random House, Inc., 1961.
7. Fujimoto, Masaru. "Volleys that rang the death knell of an age." The
Japan Times. May 4, 2003.

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