Battles of Kawanakajima

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Fourth Battle of Kawanakajima
Part of the Sengoku period
Sengoku period battle.jpg
Painting depicting the battle at Kawanakajima
Date September 10, 1561
Location Kawanakajima, Shinano Province
(in the present-day city of Nagano)
Result Uesugi Tactical Victory
Takeda Strategic Victory
Belligerents
Takeda forces Uesugi forces
Commanders and leaders
Takeda Shingen
Yamamoto Kansuke 
Kōsaka Masanobu and others
Uesugi Kenshin
Kakizaki Kageie
Uesugi Norimasa
Murakami Yoshikiyo and others
Strength
1st battle 10,000

2nd battle 12,000

3rd battle 23,000

4th battle 20,000

1st battle 8,000

2nd battle 8,000

3rd battle 10,000

4th battle 13,000

Casualties and losses
4,000+ Wounded or Dead
Takeda Nobushige
Morozumi Torasada
Yamamoto Kansuke
Hajikano Tadatsugu
3,000+ Wounded or Dead
Shida Yoshitoki
Shoda Sadataka
This Hachiman Shrine stands near the site of the Fourth Battle of Kawanakajima.
The battle of Kawanakajima, Shingen on the left and Kenshin on the right. Woodblock print by Utagawa Hiroshige.

The battles of Kawanakajima (川中島の戦い Kawanakajima no tatakai?) were fought in the Sengoku Period of Japan between Takeda Shingen of Kai Province and Uesugi Kenshin of Echigo Province in the plain of Kawanakajima, in the north of Shinano Province. The location is in the southern part of the present-day city of Nagano.

The five major battles took place in 1553, 1555, 1557, 1561 and 1564. The best known and most severe among them was fought on September 10, 1561.

The battles started after Shingen conquered Shinano Province, expelling Murakami Yoshiharu and Ogasawara Nagatoki, who subsequently turned to Kenshin for help.

The first battle[edit]

In the First Battle of Kawanakajima, in June 1553, Takeda Shingen penetrated far into the Kawanakajima plain, his vanguard encountering the forces of Uesugi Kenshin at a shrine to Hachiman. They disengaged, and met up again a few kilometers away, but no decisive battle was fought.

The second battle[edit]

In 1555, the second battle of Kawanakajima, also known as the Battle of Saigawa, began when Takeda Shingen returned to Kawanakajima, advancing up to the Sai River. He made camp on a hill to the south of the river, while Uesugi Kenshin was camped just east of the Zenko-ji temple, which provided him an excellent view of the plain. However, the Kurita clan, allies of the Takeda, held Asahiyama fortress a few kilometers to the west; they menaced the Uesugi right flank. Kurita Kakuju's defenses were bolstered by 3000 Takeda warriors.

Kenshin launched a number of attacks against the Asahiyama fortress, but all were repulsed. Eventually he moved his army onto the plain, redirecting his attention on Takeda's main force. However, rather than attacking, both armies waited, for months, for the other to make a move. Finally, battle was avoided as both leaders retired to deal with domestic affairs in their home provinces.

The third battle[edit]

The third battle took place in 1557 when Takeda Shingen captured a fortress called Katsurayama, overlooking the Zenkō-ji temple from the north-west. He then attempted to take Iiyama castle, but withdrew after Uesugi Kenshin led an army out of Zenkō-ji.

The fourth battle[edit]

Kawanakajima (center) is where the Sai River (right) joins the Chikuma River (left).

The fourth battle resulted in greater casualties for both sides, as a percentage of total forces, than any other battle in the Sengoku Period, and is one of the most tactically interesting battles of the period as well. In September 1561, Uesugi Kenshin left his Kasugayama fortress with 18,000 warriors, determined to destroy Takeda Shingen. He left some of his forces at Zenkoji, but took up a position on Saijoyama, a mountain to the west of, and looking down upon, Shingen's Kaizu castle. To Kenshin's ignorance, the Kaizu castle contained no more than 150 samurai, and their followers, and he had taken them completely by surprise. However, the general in command of the castle, Kosaka Danjo Masanobu, through a system of signal fires, informed his lord, in Tsutsujigasaki fortress, 130 km away in Kōfu, of Kenshin's move.

Shingen left Kōfu with 16,000 men, acquiring 4,000 more as he traveled through Shinano Province, approaching Kawanakajima on the west bank of the Chikumagawa (Chikuma River), keeping the river between him and Saijoyama. Neither army made a move, knowing that victory would require the essential element of surprise. Shingen was thus allowed into his fortress at Kaizu along with his gun-bugyō (army commissioner), Yamamoto Kansuke. At that time, Kansuke formed a strategy that he believed would prove effective against Kenshin.

The death of Yamamoto Kansuke, woodblock print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi. Wounded and believing his strategy had failed, Kansuke retired to a nearby hill and committed suicide.

Kōsaka Danjo Masanobu left Kaizu with 8,000 men, advancing up Saijoyama under cover of night, intending to drive Kenshin's army down to the plain where Takeda Shingen would be waiting with another 8,000 men in kakuyoku, or "crane's wing", formation. However, whether via spies in Kaizu or scouts looking down from Saijoyama, Kenshin guessed Shingen's intentions, and led his own men down to the plain. Kenshin descended from Saijoyama by its western flanks. Instead of fleeing Kosaka's dawn attack, Uesugi Kenshin's army crept down the mountain, quietly using bits of cloth to deaden the noise of the horse's hooves. With the beginning of dawn, Shingen's men found Kenshin's army ready to charge at them—as opposed to fleeing from the mountain, as expected.

Uesugi's forces attacked in waves, in a "Kuruma Gakari" formation, in which every unit is replaced by another as it becomes weary or destroyed. Leading the Uesugi vanguard was one of Uesugi's Twenty-Eight Generals, Kakizaki Kageie. Kakizaki's unit of mounted samurai clashed into Takeda Nobushige's unit, resulting in the unfortunate loss of Nobushige. While the Kakuyoku formation held surprisingly well, the Takeda commanders eventually fell, one by one. Seeing that his pincer plan had failed, Yamamoto Kansuke charged alone into the mass of Uesugi samurai, suffering upwards of 80 bullet wounds before retiring to a nearby hill and committing seppuku.

Eventually, the Uesugi forces reached the Takeda command post, and one of the most famous single combats in Japanese history ensued. Uesugi Kenshin himself burst into the headquarters, attacking Takeda Shingen who, unprepared for such an event, parried with his signalling fan as best as he could, and held Kenshin off long enough for one of his retainers, Hara Osumi-no-Kami, to spear Kenshin's mount and drive him off.

The Takeda main body held firm, despite fierce rotating attacks by the Uesugi. Obu Saburohei fought back against Kakizaki's samurai. Anayama Nobukumi destroyed Shibata of Echigo, and forced the Uesugi main force back to the Chikumigawa.

Meanwhile, Kosaka's stealth force reached the top of Saijoyama and, finding the Uesugi position deserted, hurried down the mountain to the ford, taking the same path they had expected the fleeing Uesugi to take. After desperate fighting, they punched their way through the 3000 Uesugi warriors defending the ford (under the command of Uesugi general, Amakazu Kagemochi), and pressed on to aid Takeda's main force. The Kosaka force then attacked the retreating Uesugi from the rear. Takeda Shingen's many great generals, including his younger brother Takeda Nobushige and great uncle Murozumi Torasada were killed in the field.

In the end, the Uesugi army suffered around 3000 losses, while the Takeda had about 4000 casualties. The chronicles seem to indicate that the Takeda made no effort to stop the Uesugi from retreating after the battle, burning the encampment at Saijoyama, returning to Zenkoji, and then to Echigo Province.

The fifth battle[edit]

In 1564, Shingen and Kenshin met for the fifth and final time on the plain of Kawanakajima. Their forces skirmished for 60 days, and then both withdrew.

In popular culture[edit]

The rivalry between the two warlords was documented in the Japanese movie Heaven and Earth, which features the fourth battle as the film's climax. The fourth battle is also one of the most pivotal moments for many TV dramas centered on Shingen's life, such as Fūrin Kazan.

As the fourth battle between Shingen and Kenshin was the most famous among all of them, it is one of the early stages in the Samurai Warriors series. Because of the 1-on-1 fight between Shingen and Kenshin, Shingen's weapon is a dansen uchiwa (signalling fan).

In Sengoku Basara anime the 1st battle ends in a stalemate,the 2nd battle ends both Uesugi and Takeda forces retreating in the face of Hiseyoshi's forces,and the 3rd battle ends with Takeda victory. Shingen was going to execute Kenshin, when Ieyasu arrives to offer their alliance for his dream.

In both PC games Shogun: Total War, and its sequel, Total War: Shogun 2, one of the historical battles is the fourth Kawanakajima.

The five battles are referenced in Pokémon Conquest (Pokémon + Nobunaga's Ambition in Japan), in which Kenshin and Shingen share a similar rivalry and settle it with a bet: the first to take five kingdoms from their opponent is the victor. Shingen carries a war fan at all times in the game.

It is featured in the climax of the film Samurai Banners.

References[edit]

  • Sansom, George (1961). A History of Japan: 1334–1615. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.
  • Turnbull, Stephen (1998). The Samurai Sourcebook. London: Cassell & Co.
  • Turnbull, Stephen (2002). War in Japan: 1467–1615. Oxford: Osprey Publishing.