Battles of Kawanakajima

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Battles of Kawanakajima
Part of the Sengoku period
The battle of Kawanakajima, Shingen on the left and Kenshin on the right. Woodblock print by Utagawa Hiroshige.
Date 1553-1564
Location Kawanakajima, Shinano Province
(in the present-day city of Nagano)
Result 4th battle: Indecisive
Takeda clan Uesugi clan
Commanders and leaders
Takeda Shingen
Yamamoto Kansuke 
Kōsaka Masanobu
Takeda Nobushige 
Morozumi Torasada 
Hajikano Tadatsugu 
Uesugi Kenshin
Kakizaki Kageie
Uesugi Norimasa
Murakami Yoshikiyo
Shida Yoshitoki 
Shoda Sadataka 
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
4th battle: 4,000+ 4th battle: 3,000+

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, "the island between the rivers", in the north of Shinano Province.[1] 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 Yoshikiyo and Ogasawara Nagatoki, who subsequently turned to Kenshin for help.[2][3]

The first battle[edit]

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

In the First Battle of Kawanakajima or The Battle of Fuse, was fought in 1553. After taking Katsurao Castle, Takeda Shingen penetrated far into the Kawanakajima plain along the eastern bank of Chikumagawa river. Uesugi Kenshin is marching up the western bank to support Yoshikiyo Murakami, and the two armies encounter each other at a shrine to Hachiman on June 3, 1553. After Takeda withdraws, Uesugi continues his march and lays siege to Katsura, but is unable to capture it.

In September, Takeda returned to crush the remaining Murakami forces around Shioda. On September 8 took Wada and Takashima on the 10th. In both cases, the entire garrison was put to death as a warning to other Murakami hold-outs. Murakami Yoshikiyo retreated from Shioda on 12 September and about 16 of the clan's outposts in Shinano surrendered to Takeda. Shingen pursues Yoshikyo across the Chikumagawa river but is turned back by Kenshin's reinforcements at the Battle of Fuse. Kenshin pursues Shingen, winning another battle at Hachiman. The victorious Uesugi forces go on take Arato castle before winter forces both sides to disengage.

The second battle[edit]

From Aug. to Nov. 1555, the second battle of Kawanakajima, also known as the Battle of the 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 Zenkō-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 3,000 Takeda warriors.[1][4]

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.[4]

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.[1][4]

The fourth battle[edit]

This Hachiman Shrine stands near the site of the Fourth Battle of Kawanakajima.

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 Castle 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.[4]:269

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.[4]:270–271

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 their horses' 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.[4]:271

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.[4]:271

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.[4]:271–272

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.[4]:272

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 Murozumi Masakiyo were killed in the field.[4]:272

In the end, the Uesugi army suffered 72 per cent casualties, while the Takeda lost 62 per cent. 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.[4]:272

The fifth battle[edit]

In Sept.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.[1][4][5]

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. It is featured in the climax of the film Samurai Banners. 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 both PC games Shogun: Total War, and its sequel, Total War: Shogun 2, one of the historical battles is the fourth Kawanakajima.

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. 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.

The Battles of Kawanakajima were depicted and heavily implied in the plot of a case in the manga and anime franchise Detective Conan, as well as the Twenty-Four Generals of Takeda Shingen. Furthermore, police officers in the Nagano police department in the series created a secret group in which the members had similar names to those of the 24 generals. The case linked the Kawanakajima topic with woodpeckers.


  1. ^ a b c d Turnbull, Stephen (1987). Battles of the Samurai. Arms and Armour Press. pp. 41–56. ISBN 0853688265. 
  2. ^ Kawanakajima 1553-64: Samurai Power Struggle ;Stephen Turnbull, Wayne Reynolds ;Osprey Publishing;2013 ISBN 9781472800220
  3. ^ Sato, Hiroaki (1995). Legends of the Samurai. Overlook Duckworth. pp. 214–220. ISBN 9781590207307. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Turnbull, Stephen (1998). The Samurai Sourcebook. Cassell & Co. pp. 212–217. ISBN 1854095234. 
  5. ^ Sansom, George (1961). A History of Japan, 1334–1615. Stanford University Press. p. 246. ISBN 0804705259. 


  • Sansom, George (1961). A History of Japan: 1334–1615. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.
  • Turnbull, Stephen (2002). War in Japan: 1467–1615. Oxford: Osprey Publishing.
  • Turnbull, Stephen (2003). "Kawanakajima 1553–64: Samurai power struggle" Bloomsbury Publishing,