Zen Stories of the Samurai



Shingen Takeda

Takeda Mon

Shingen Takeda


Takeda Shingen (originally known as Takeda Harunobu) was born in 1521. He was the eldest son of Takeda Nobutora, the ruler of Kai, a strategic province in the center of Japan’s main island.


Shingen’s home life was remarkably troubled and mired in politics. Over the years, Shingen exiled, imprisoned, or executed several close family members, including his father, his guardian, his cousin and his son.


In his military career, Shingen showed himself to be outstanding. He was admired by his adversaries as well as his followers. A common Japanese military trend during Shingen’s life was the construction of great castles. Shingen resisted this trend, preferring instead to perfect a flexible and highly mobile military force. Shingen’s military accomplishments included:


In addition to his successful military endeavors, Shingen is well remembered for his sound civil administration and public works. His governance methods were so successful that they were later adopted by the Togugawa Shogunate. Some of the highlights of his rule included:





One characteristic that set Shingen Takeda apart from his rivals was that he was a master of branding. He chose Shingen, meaning compassionate eye, for his formal name in 1551 when he took Buddhist vows. His name choice, proclaimed Shingen’s ability to see all sides of an issue and to act fairly in the interest of all parties. While the formal name captured the domestic side of his persona, Shingen was also known by the unofficial nickname “The Tiger of Kai”. This branding was more appropriate for the image he wished to convey to his adversaries in neighboring provinces.


The Takeda logo, known as the “Takeda Bishi” consisted of four diamonds combined into one large diamond. It was a simple and powerful design which stands up well even by modern notions of graphic design.


A slogan was paired with the logo. It was used to represent both the Takeda military as a whole and also to personify Shingen himself.


Fast like the wind,

Silent like a forest,

Intrusive like the fire,

Immobile like a mountain.


When applying the slogan to himself, Shingen would append a paraphrase of the legendary quote from Buddha, by adding:


Under heaven and earth, I alone am feared.



As a politician, Shingen realized the dangers presented when religious sects gained political power and then vied for dominance over other sects or civil authority. Conversely, he understood the value of religion as a moral force that assisted in keeping his subjects’ behavior within social norms. These concepts are depicted in some of Shingen’s laws:





In 1573, one of Takeda’s armies had laid siege to Noda Castle in Mikawa. This fortress was defended by the forces of Togugawa Ieyasu, an ally of Oda Nobunaga. Shingen diligently followed the intelligence reports of the siege with the intent of determining the rate of deterioration the besieged defenders. The intelligence made mention of a lone flute player who could be heard playing within the castle walls every evening. According to tradition, Shingen reasoned that he could determine the moral level of the defenders by assessing the quality of the flute music!


In 1573, Shingen made a personal visit to the battlefield. In the evening and under cover of darkness, Shingen approached the fortress wall to listen to the enemy flute music. Somehow, the presence of Shingen’s entourage attracted the attention of the castle defenders. A sniper’s bullet mortally wounded Shingen and he died within a few days.


While on his deathbed, Shingen called for one of his most able warriors to raise the Takeda battle flag on the bridge leading to Kyoto, as if he was advancing on the capital. Shingen then collapsed and soon died. Instead of a traditional death poem, Shingen had chosen an epitaph derived from Zen literature.


It is largely left to her own natural bodily perfection, and she has no special need to resort to artificial coloring and powdering to look beautiful.


This metaphorical verse is a lesson that the true nature of things is best grasped intuitively and directly. Subjective analysis and discriminating thought only create distractions and do no add to true understanding.


Word of his wounding and subsequent death was suppressed until 1575 so as not to give an advantage to Togugawa Ieyasu and Oda Nobunaga.


After his death, Shingen was succeeded by Takeda Katsuyori, a fourth son from a lesser wife. While he had a record as a skilled individual warrior and able battlefield commander, Katsuyori lacked his father’s strategic insight and executive management capabilities in the areas of both civil administration and military affairs.


Katsuyori guided the Takeda army to destruction in 1575 at battle of Nagashino. Acting against the unanimous advice of what was arguably the best general staff in feudal Japan, Katsuyori orderd an ill-fated, all out, frontal attack against the armies of Oda Nobunaga.  The battle resulted in a huge number of Takeda casualties and the Takeda clan ceased to be a significant power.  Katsuyori continued to rule the clan until 1581 when beset by rebellion and invasion, Katsuyori killed himself. Within a year, the Takeda lands were under the control of other clans.



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