HISTORY

The Battle of MIKATAGAHARA

2013.05.16 [HISTORY,WHAT'S NEW]

The Battle of MIKATAGAHARA

6 January 1573 

Takeda Shingen (28,000) 
VS 
Tokugawa Ieyasu (11,000, including 3,000 Oda troops)

 

The Battle of Mikatagahara almost changed Japan’s history,
as the man who would go on to become Shogun, Tokugawa
Ieyasu
, suffered a near total defeat to the superb fighting
forces and cavalry tactics of the Takeda Clan. It was a battle
that Ieyasu would remember to his final days. What saved him
was a forward thinking general, and an empty castle.

 

Takeda Shingen was the master of Kai Province in modern
day Yamanashi Prefecture. He was the only Daimyo at the
time boasting the numbers, the drive and skill to rival Oda
Nobunaga.
He had conquered Shinano (Nagano) and was
ready to expand his national presence. When the snows of
northern winter had blocked his main adversary, Uesugi
Kenshin
from making any aggression against him, Shingen
commenced making his moves southwards to the lands held
by the Tokugawa, lands won from the Imagawa following their
defeat by Oda Nobunaga at Okehazama in 1560. These former
Imagawa lands of Totomi, were shared by the Takeda, and by
Tokugawa Ieyasu, who had constructed Hammatsu castle to
consolidate his holdings.

 

 

Details of the battle were recorded in the Koyo Gunkan, a chronicle noting the military exploits
of the Takeda Clan’s major battle strategies, tactics and the results, views on the warrior code,
and advice on conduct during campaigns. It provides some of the most detailed descriptions and
statistics of Sengoku period warfare available today.

 

The book even goes as far as to list the entire Takeda forces for 1573. According to the books, 
of the 33,736 enlisted troops, 9,121 were horse mounted cavalry with 18,242 samurai followers. 
There were 5,489 ashigaru, (foot soldiers) with another 884 detailed to the lord’s personal attendance. 
The diaries also list the number of kitchen staff, banner bearers and pages, doctors, vets and even
Buddhist priests accompanying the troops into battle.

 

Shingen had annexed the nearby castle town of Futamata in late 1572 and established a forward
base there, returning some months later. Shingen’s intent it seems was not to engage Ieyasu,
nor take Hamamatsu as such, but to attack Nobunaga and capture Kyoto. Ieyasu however, had
refused him passage through his lands.

 

 

 Odds of Three To One 

Facing the Takeda threat of 30,000 samurai with 8,000 troops of his own, and supported by 3,000
Oda troops, Ieyasu at odds of three to one, met the challenge on the high plains of Mikata, north
of Hamamatsu. Ieyasu’s numerous generals and advisors, even the commanders of the Oda troops
suggested allowing the Takeda pass, leaving defense of the region to the larger Oda forces further
south. Ieyasu ignored their advice.

 

 

The Takeda quickly adopted the Gyorin, or “Fish Scale” formation, while Ieyasu’s samurai were lined
up before them. Tensions ran high as snow began to fall. Around 4pm, Ieyasu’s front-line matchlock
gun troops were ordered to open fire. The use of the guns was supposed to have acted as a deterrent
against the Takeda cavalry. Instead it encouraged them. The cavalry charged and easily broke through
the front lines, and gouged straight into the Oda forces, scattering them and mowing them down before
circling around and returning to their starting lines. The Oda reinforcements had been decimated.

 

Shingen then ordered a second attack by a fresh set of mounted samurai . A frontal assault again by a
wave of cavalry, this time led by Shingen’s son and heir, Katsuyori, and followed by the hoards of Takeda
foot soldiers sent the Tokugawa into retreat.

 

As the army was rapidly overwhelmed, Ieyasu’s general, Natsume Yoshinobu demanded his lord retreat,
berating him for risking his life, and almost throwing the daimyo onto his horse before slapping it hard to
send it rushing back to Hamamatsu Castle. Natsume then stormed into the thick of the raging battle,
claiming himself to be Ieyasu, providing time for his lord to make good his escape. Natsume too was killed
in battle, along with almost the entire Tokugawa forces. The Takeda are estimated to have lost between
500 and 3,000.

 

 

 The “Empty Castle” Strategy

Ieyasu barely managed to make it back to Hamamatsu alive

with just five remaining samurai in tow. Word of their defeat
had already reached the castle, however, upon his return, he
ordered the main gates of the castle be left wide open and had
the large war drum beaten. All around the castle, tripod
mounted brazier fires were lit to guide the survivors home.
This tactic, known as the “Empty Castle Strategy” worked.

 

The Takeda forces on hearing the drums, and seeing the fires
burning and the wide open gates, suspected a trap, and instead
of entering, set up camp in front of the castle. That night, ninja
loyal to the Tokugawa snuck into the Takeda camp and created
ruses that sent the attackers into confusion.
Fearing reinforcements could arrive any minute, and uncertain
of the numbers of remaining Tokugawa forces, the Takeda not
wanting to be occupied in a siege, quickly and quietly withdrew.

 

After the battle, Ieyasu had a portrait painted of himself seated on
a war stool, head in hand and with a look of utter despair.
It’s written that Ieyasu then carried the portrait with him on all
campaigns and would look upon it in times of doubt or stress in an
effort to remind himself of the fear of defeat, and encourage
himself to strive harder.

 

KIA: (Tokugawa) Natsume Yoshinobu, (Oda) Hiraide Norihide

 


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