Takeda Shingen (1521-1573), also known as the "The Tiger of Kai" (甲斐の虎), was one of the foremost daimyō of the Sengoku Period (1467-1568) and the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1568-1600). After deposing his father, he conquered his neighbours' territories and established control over the provinces of Kai and Shinano, then proceeded to attack and defeat his rival Uesugi Kenshin of Echigo. Forging and breaking several short-lived alliances with other daimyō, he was the only military leader that could have challenged Oda Nobunaga's rise to power had he not died of a disease.
Shingen succeeded to the position of shugo in 1541 in true Sengoku fashion by exiling his father, Nobutora (武田信虎, 1498-1574), to Suruga and assuming the leadership of the family, contrary to his father's plans who wanted Shingen's younger brother Nobushige (武田信繁, 1525-1561) to take over the clan. Having consolidated his hold on Kai, Shingen invaded Shinano Province (present-day Nagano Prefecture) in 1542. This vast and mountainous territory was divided among countless landholders (土豪 dogō) whose mutual rivalries played into Shingen's hands. It was not until 1559, however, that he succeeded in occupying most of the province's northern limits. In the same year, shōgun Ashikaga Yoshiteru (1536-65) appointed him shugo of Shinano, thus legalizing his conquests.
The advance into northern Shinano pitted Shingen against Uesugi Kenshin, the great daimyō of Echigo Province (now part of Niigata Prefecture); after 1553, the two were involved in endless warfare against each other. The rivalry between the "Tiger of Kai" (甲斐の虎) and the "Dragon of Echigo" (越後の龍) is the most famous in all of Sengoku history: the series of five major battles and several more minor skirmishes they fought at Kawanakajima (川中島), a place in northern Shinano dominating the approaches to Echigo, between 1553 and 1564, is of particular fame.
Shingen statue in front of JR Kōfu Station.
The year 1554 saw the formation of a tripartite alliance between Shingen, the daimyō Imagawa Yoshimoto (今川義元, 1519-1560) of Sumpu (modern-day Shizuoka City) and Hōjō Ujiyasu (北条氏康, 1515-1571) of Odawara that allowed Shingen to secure the southern and eastern borders of his territories. That coalition began to crumble in 1565 when he established ties with Oda Nobunaga, who had defeated Yoshimoto at the Battle of Okehazama, and it collapsed when Shingen and Nobunaga's ally Tokugawa Ieyasu agreed to divide the Imagawa provinces of Suruga and Totomi (parts of what is now Shizuoka Prefecture).
Shingen could not invade Suruga without conflict with the Later Hōjō. In 1568, therefore, he tried to safeguard himself and proposed an alliance with none other than his archenemy Uesugi Kenshin. A Hōjō demarche to Kenshin foiled the plan, though. In the course of Shingen's bold advance into Suruga in 1570, Ieyasu allied himself with Kenshin; the following year, both were clashing in Totomi, with Shingen pressing the attack into Ieyasu's home territory of Mikawa Province (now part of Aichi Prefecture).
As Shingen's true objectives lay in the west, he and the Hōjō were reconciled in 1571 and signed another treaty against Kenshin. Turning against an ally for the sake of a temporary advantage was a Sengoku paradigm. In 1572, Shingen mounted an offensive toward the west. It is unclear what his aim was, but what is commonly described as a march on Kyōto to crush Nobunaga and seize the hegemony over Japan's heartland was most likely just another regional expedition. Its only lasting effect was indirect: Shingen's early successes, notably his victory over the combined forces of Ieyasu and Nobunaga at Mikatagahara in Totomi on 6 January 1573, led shōgun Ashikaga Yoshiaki to break with Nobunaga, a move that resulted in the demise of the Muromachi shogunate.
Shingen's grave in a residential area of Kōfu.
It is unclear what caused Shingen to break off the campaign, either a lingering disease or complications from a teppō bullet shot by a sniper at Noda Castle; whatever the exact circumstances were, he died on his way home in Shinano on 13 May 1573. Nine years later, Nobunaga eliminated his heirs and partitioned his domains.
Takeda Shingen's 24 generals (武田二十四将) were retainers renowned for their exceptional service to the Takeda clan. In the Edo Period (1600-1868), they became popular fare in ukiyo-e and bunraku although their names and number vary depending on the source.
- Chaplin, Danny, Sengoku Jidai. Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, and Ieyasu: The Three Unifiers of Japan, Createspace Independent Pub 2018
- Solum, Terje, Rue, Ander K., Takeda Nobutora: The Unification of Kai, The Kai Takeda 2 (1494-1574), Brookhurst 2004
- Solum, Terje, Rue, Ander K., Takeda Shingen, The Kai Takeda 3 (1521-1548), Brookhurst 2005
- Solum, Terje, Rue, Ander K., Shingen in Command, The Kai Takeda 4 (1549-1558), Brookhurst 2006
- Solum, Terje, Rue, Ander K., Shingen - The Conqueror, The Kai Takeda 5 (1559-1568), 2012
- Solum, Terje, Shingen - The Last Campaign, The Kai Takeda 6, 2016
- Celebrating the Legacy of Takeda Shingen: the Shingen-Ko Festival (PDF, in English)