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Resolution in defeat: the Ieyasu way

or How to win after being massacred on the battlefield, holding out with 120 Soldiers against 35,000


Takeda Shingen, the fearsome daimyo of the Takeda Clan

A Twenty nine year old Tokugawa Ieyasu gazed at the horizon. He was about to face the armies of Takeda Shingen, the only other daimyo who could challenge the might of even Oda Nobunaga. The battle between the two would enter the annals of history as the Battle of Mikatagahara. The battle showcases the arrogance and daring of Tokugawa, his greatest asset and weakness.

He was facing overwhelming odds: His army consisted of a mere 11,000 including 3,000 troops that his overlord, Oda Nobunaga, had dispatched compared to the 35,000 that Shingen fielded. He was facing was the fierce army which outnumbered him three to one, including the famous mounted cavalry of the Takeda or the ‘demon horsemen of Kai’ as they were famously known. Takeda wanted to conquer the Hamamatsu castle that Tokugawa held in order to cut a path to Kyoto and soften the challenge he would face against Nobunaga. Holding the castle was thus essential to holding out against this invasion. Tokugawa, against the advice of his counselors, decided to face the feared Takeda army in the open Mikatagahara plains in front of the Hamamatsu castle. It was suggested to Tokugawa that he let the Takeda army through to face the larger Oda Army to the south of the castle. Tokugawa dismissed this suggestion. He was sure that he could deal with them -after all he was the great Tokugawa. And thus it was decided that they would face Takeda Shingen in open battle.


What followed was the a massacre. Tokugawa’s army was cut down by the Takeda cavalry. Things were so bad that the Takeda army had surrounded Tokugawa’s personal guard. At this point, Natsume Yoshinobu the commander of the Hamamatsu castle rode up and forced Tokugawa to retreat to the castle. And in a last act of heroism, plunged into the enemy lines yelling “I am Ieyasu”. When Tokugawa reached the castle, only five samurai accompanied him. It looked like all was done for the young daimyo. A long protracted siege with little troops was not a great prospect. Takeda’s massive army would have little in the form of resistance if they were to attempting to storm the castle. Things looked bleak for the young commander. And this is where Ieyasu shines through, this is where he shows his true brilliance.Time and time again, he has shown the knack to survive.

When one of his commanders gestured for the gates of the castle to be closed, he ordered that they remain open. Then he ordered for fires to be lit across the castle, and the war drum to be beaten. This gave the impression that the castle was fully manned. Ieyasu proceeded to eat three bowls of rice and to sleep. The Takeda Samurai, who rode up to the castle saw the open gates of the well lit castle and the sound of the war drum in the distance. Fearing it was a trick, the Takeda army stopped, and made camp in front of the castle. During the night, sixteen arquebusiers and a hundred footmen attacked the Takeda encampment.


Sakai Tadatsugu, a commander under Ieyasu, beating the war drum after the battle of Mikatagahara

They led the Takeda samurai to a ravine that split the Mikatagahara plains, where they were cut down. The next day, Takeda Shingen decided to retreat, fearing a long and protracted siege that could last through the winter. Little did Shingen know the how weak the resistance was. Tokugawa Ieyasu had not only survived after losing a battle, but also deceived their opponents to a retreat.


The portrait that Ieyasu had painted

He had snatched a debilitating victory, but a victory nonetheless. He had lost the battle with his own fearlessness, but then snatched a win from the jaws of defeat with the same fearlessness. Ieyasu never forgot the lessons that this battle had taught him. He had a portrait of himself painted, depicting him with a look of despair seated on a stool. He is said to have carried it at all times, and remind himself of the day he almost lost his life, the day he was almost felled.

(Takeda Shingen died the following year (1573 C.E.) during a siege against another Tokugawa castle)


Tokugawa Ieyasu had faced many challenges through his life: He had been a hostage for much of his childhood. But that was long ago. He was now a powerful daimyo, the right hand man of the most powerful warlord of Japan, the son of the man who was his captor. Yet now he was about to lose it all. His army had been defeated on the battlefield due to his own arrogance. He was facing an army of 30,000 including 18,000 samurai with a mere 400 men.  Things looked bleak for the young man.

Yet he endured, like he had endured 10 years of captivity. Tokugawa showed the skill and tenacity that would eventually make him shogun 30 years later. The courage that he displayed at the face of defeat in the Battle of Mikatagahara is legendary. 



A depiction of the Battle of Mikatagahara, c. 1874


Takeda Shingnen in the battle. c. 1885


Tokugawa Ieyasu being chased by Shingen’s troops, c.1895


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