The Gateless Gate
The smoke from the fires of war was thick not only on Mount Hiei but was rising, as if from the leaping flames of a prairie fire, from the western districts of Mikawa, to the villages on the Tenryu River, as far as the borders of Mino. The troops of Takeda Shinger had crossed the mountains of Kai and were flowing southward.
The Tokugawa, who had dubbed their enemy "the long-legged Shingen," vowed to stop his march on the capital. This was not for the sake of their Oda allies. Kai was critically close to the provinces of Mikawa and Totomi, and if the Takeda forces were to breal through, it would mean the annihilation of the Tokugawa clan.
Ieyasu was thirty-one years old and in the prime of manhood. His retainers had suffered every privation and hardship for the past twenty years. But at last Ieyasu had come of age, his clan was on friendly terms with the Oda, and bit by bit he was encroaching on the territory of the Imagawa clan.
His province was filled with the hope of prosperity and the courage of expansion, so much so that the elder retainers, the samurai, the farmers, and the townspeople seemed to be aroused and inspired.
Mikawa could hardly match Kai in armaments and resources; in determination, however, it was not the least bit inferior. There was a reason why the Tokugawa warriors had given Shingen the nickname "Long-legged." This witticism had once been included in letter to Ieyasu from Nobunaga, and when Ieyasu read it, he thought it was worth relatin to his retainers.
The appellation was a clever one, for if only yesterday Shingen had been fighting at the northern border of Kai against the Uesugi clan, today he was in Kozuke and Sagami and was threatening the Hojo clan. Or, turning quickly, he would release the fires of war in Mikawa or Mino.
Moreover, Shingen himself was always in the field giving directions. Thus people said he must have had mannequins to take his place, but the fact was that whenever his men fought, he did not seem to be satisfied unless he was there on the battlefield himself. But if Shingen was long-legged, it could be said that Nobunaga was fleet-footed.
Nobunaga had written to Ieyasu:
It would be better not to face the full force of the Kai attack right now. Even if the situation becomes pressing and you have to withdraw from Hamamatsu to Okazaki, I hope you will persevere. If our time must wait for another day, I doubt it will be long in coming.
Nobunaga had sent this message to Ieyasu before burning Mount Hiei, but Ieyasu had turned to his senior retainers and declared, right in front of the Oda messenger, "Before abandoning Hamamatsu Castle, it would be better to break our bows and leave the samurai class!"
To Nobunaga, Ieyasu's province was one of his lines of defense; but to Ieyasu, Mikawa was his home. Ieyasu was going to bury his bones in no other province but this one. When he received the messenger's reply, Nobunaga mumbled something about the man being too impatient, and returned to Gifu just as soon as he had finished with Mount Hiei. Shingen must have had something to say about that speed as well. As might be expected, he too was alert in looking for his opportunity.
Shingen had stated clearly that to be one day late could mean disasters for an entire year, and now he felt the need to hurry all the more to fulfill his long-cherished desire of entering the capital. For this reason, all of his diplomatic moves were expedited. His friendship with the Hojo clan, therefore, was now brought to fruition, but his negotiations with the Uesugi clan were as unsatisfactory as before. Thus he was obliged to wait until the Tenth Month to leave Kai.
Snow would soon close off his borders with Echigo, so his concern about Uesugi Kenshin would be alleviated. His army of about thirty thousand men comprised troops conscripted from his domain, which included Kai, Shinano, Suruga, the northern part of Totomi, eastern Mikawa, western Kozuke, a part of Hida, and the southern part of Etchu —land holdings amounting to almost one million three hundred thousand bushels in all.
"The best thing we could do is put up a defense," one general argued.
"At least until reinforcements come from Lord Nobunaga."
One party of the men in Hamamatsu Castle spoke in favor of a defensive campaign. Even if all the province's samurai were mustered, the military strength of the Tokugawa clan was hardly fourteen thousand men—barely half that of the Takeda army. Still, Ieyasu chose to order a mobilization of his army.
"What! This is not a matter of waiting around for Lord Nobunaga's reinforcements."
All of his retainers expected a great number of the Oda soldiers to come to their aid out of a natural sense of duty—or even out of gratitude for the past service rendered by the Tokugawa clan at the Ane River. Ieyasu, however, did his best to appear as though he had no expectation of reinforcements at all. Now was exactly the time for him to determine whether his men were resigned to a life-and-death situation, and to make them realize they could rely on nothing but their own strength.
"If it's destruction to retreat and destruction to advance, shouldn't we strike out in an all-or-nothing effort, make our names as warriors, and die a glorious death?" he asked calmly.
While this man had known misery and hardships from the time of his youth, he had matured into an adult who did not make a fuss over trifles. Now, with this situation upon them, the castle of Hamamatsu was as full of fury as a boiling kettle, but while Ieyasu sat there and advocated a violent confrontation more than anyone else, the tone of his voice hardly changed at all. For this reason there were those among his retainers who had misgivings about the difference between his words and their intent. But Ieyasu hastened steadily to make preparations to depart for the battlefield, as he received the reports of his scouts.
One by one, like teeth being plucked from a comb, reports of each defeat were coming in. Shingen had attacked Totomi. By now, it was likely that the castles at Tadaki and Iida had had no other choice but to surrender. In the villages of Fukuroi, Kakegawa, and Kihara, there was no place that the Kai forces had not trampled underfoot. Worse, Ieyasu's three-thousand-man vanguard under Honda, Okubo, and Naito had been discovered by the Takeda forces in the neighborhood of the Tenryu River. The Tokugawa had been routed and forced to retreat to Hamamatsu.
This report made everyone in the castle turn pale. But Ieyasu continued his military preparations. He was especially careful to secure his lines of communication, and had been taking care of the defense of that area until nearly the end of the Tenth Month. And, to secure Futamata Castle at the Tenryu River, he had sent reinforcements of troops,weapons, and supplies.
The army left Hamamatsu Castle, advanced as far as Kanmashi village on the bank of the Tenryu River, and found the camp of the Kai army, each position linked to Shingen’s headquarters like spokes around a hub.
"Ah, just as you'd expect." Even Ieyasu stood on the hill for a moment with his arms folded and let out a sigh of admiration. The banners in Shingen's main camp were visible even at this distance. From closer up, one could make out the inscription. They were the words of the famous Sun Tzu, familiar to enemy and ally alike.
Fast as the wind,
Quiet as a forest,
Ardent as fire,
Still as a mountain.
Still as a mountain, neither Shingen nor Ieyasu made any move for several days. With the Tenryu River between the opposing camps, winter came in with the Eleventh Month.
* * *
Two things there are
Ieyasu's horned helmet
And Honda Heihachiro.
One of the Takeda men had posted this lampoon on the hill of Hitokotozaka. Ieyasu's men had been soundly defeated and routed there—or at least that was the opinion of the Takeda ranks, elated by their victory. But as the poem admitted, the Tokugawa had some fine men, and Honda Heihachiro's retreat had been admirable.
Ieyasu was certainly not unworthy as an enemy. But in this next battle the entire forces of the Takeda would be up against the entire forces of the Tokugawa. They would strike at one another in a battle that would decide the outcome of the war.
Anticipation of the fight only heightened the spirits of the men of Kai. That was the kind of composure they had. Shingen moved his main camp to Edaijima and had his son, Katsuyori, and Anayama Baisetsu move their forces against Futamata Castle, with strict orders not to delay.
In response, Ieyasu quickly sent reinforcements, saying "Futama Castle is an important line of defense. If the enemy captures it, they'll have an advantageous place from which to make their attack."
Ieyasu himself gave orders to his rear guard, but the ever-changing Takeda army quickly went through yet another transformation and began pressing in on all sides. It seemed that if he made a false move now, he would be cut off from his headquarters in Hamamatsu.
Futamata Castle's water supply—its weakest point—was cut by the enemy. On one side the castle abutted the Tenryu River, and the water that sustained the lives of the soldiers inside had to be lifted into the castle with a bucket lowered from a tower. To put an end to this, the Takeda forces launched rafts from upstream and undermined the base of the tower. From that day on, the soldiers in the castle were afflicted by a lack of water, even though the river flowed right in front of their walls.
On the evening of the nineteenth, the garrison surrendered. When Shingen learned that the castle had capitulated, he gave new orders: "Nobumori will occupy the castle. Sano, Toyoda, and Iwata will maintain communications and get ready along the enemy's road of retreat."
Like a go master watching each move of the stones, Shingen was cautious with his army's formation and advance. The twenty-seven thousand soldiers of Kai moved slowly but surely, like black clouds across the land, as the beat of the drums resounded up to heaven. After that, Shingen's main force crossed Iidani Plain and started to move into eastern Mikawa.
It was midday on the twenty-first, and the cold was sharp enough to slice off a man's nose and ears. A red dust rose in Mikatagahara, mocking the weak winter sun. There had been no rain for days; the air was parched.
"On to Iidani!" came the order. It caused a divergence of opinion among Shingen's generals.
"If we're going to Iidani, he must have decided to surround Hamamatsu Castle. Wouldn't that be a mistake?"
Some had misgivings because the Oda troops had been arriving at Hamamatsu, and no one knew for sure how many soldiers might be there now. Such was the secret intelligence that had been trickling in since the morning. No matter how much they pressed the enemy, his real situation could not be calculated. The reports were always the same: there was some truth to the rumors that were circulating in the villages along the road— which probably contained a good many of the enemy's own false reports—that a large Oda force was heading south to join Ieyasu's troops at Hamamatsu.
Shingen's generals offered their opinions:
"If Nobunaga arrives with a great army acting as a rear guard for Hamamatsu, you should probably give the matter careful thought right here, my lord."
"If the attack on Hamamatsu Castle takes us into the New Year, our men will have to winter in the field. With constant surprise attacks from the enemy, our supplies will run out and the troops will fall victim to disease. In any case, the men will suffer."
"On the other hand, I fear that they may cut off our retreat along the coast and elsewhere."
"When reinforcements are added to the Oda rear guard, our men will be trapped on a narrow strip of enemy territory—a situation that will not easily be reversed. If this happens, Your Lordship's dream of marching into Kyoto will be frustrated, and we will have to open up a bloody path to retreat. Since we're mobilized at this point, why not go on with your foremost objective and march on the capital instead of attacking Hamamatsu Castle?"
Shingen sat on a camp stool in the middle of his generals, his eyes narrow slits, like needles. He nodded at each of their opinions, then said deliberately, "All your opinions are extremely reasonable. But I am certain that the Oda reinforcements will amount to no more than a small force of three or four thousand men. If the greater part of the Oda army was to turn toward Hamamatsu, the Asai and Asakura, whom I have already contacted, would strike Nobunaga from the rear. Furthermore, the shogun in Kyoto would send messages to the warrior-monks and their allies, urging them on. The Oda are not a major worry for us."
He stopped for a moment and then went on calmly, "Entering Kyoto has been my fervent desire from the very beginning. But if we just bypassed Ieyasu now, when we got to Gifu, Ieyasu would come to the aid of the Oda by obstructing our rear. Isn't the best policy to smash Ieyasu at Hamamatsu Castle, before the Oda can send him sufficient reinforcements?"
There was nothing the generals could do but accept his decision, not just because he was their lord but because they had faith in him as a superior tactician.
As they returned to their regiments, however, there was one among them, Yamagata Masakage, who thought as he looked up at the cold, pale winter sun, This man lives for war, and he has an uncommon genius as a general, but this time…
It was the night of the twenty-first when the report of the sudden change in direction of the Kai army arrived at Hamamatsu Castle. Just three thousand men under Takigawa Kazumasu and Sakuma Nobumori had arrived at the castle as reinforcements from Nobunaga.
"A miserably small number," a Tokugawa retainer said, disappointed, but Ieyasu displayed neither joy nor dissatisfaction. And as the reports came in one after another, a war council began, at which many of the castles generals and the Oda commanders prudently recommended a temporary retreat to Okazaki.
Ieyasu alone did not move from his former position of holding out for battle. "Are we going to retreat and not let one arrow fly in reprisal while the enemy insults my province?"
There was an elevated plain north of Hamamatsu, more than two leagues in breadth and three leagues in length—Mikatagahara.
In the early dawn of the twenty-second, Ieyasu's army left Hamamatsu and took a position north of an escarpment. There they waited for the approach of the Takeda forces. The sun rose, then the sky clouded over. The silhouette of a single bird peacefully crossed the wide sky above the dry, wilted plain. From time to time the scouts of both armies, looking like the shadows of birds, crawled through the dry grass and then hurried back to their lines. That morning Shingen's army, which had previously camped on the plain, crossed the Tenryu River, continued marching, and arrived at Saigadani a little after noon.
An order went out to the entire army to halt. Oyamada Nobushige and the other generals collected at Shingen's side to ascertain the positions of the enemy that would soon be directly in front of them. After a momentary deliberation, Shingen ordered one company to be left behind as a rear guard, while the main army continued as planned across the plain of Mikatagahara.
Nearby was the village of Iwaibe. The vanguard of the army had already entered the village. The men at the head of this serpentine procession of well over twenty thousand men could not see the men at the rear of it, even if they stood in their stirrups.
Shingen turned and said to the retainers around him, "Something's going on at the rear!"
The men stared hard, trying to pierce the yellow dust rising in the distance. It seemed that the rear guard was under enemy attack. "They must have been surrounded."
"They're only two or three thousand! If they're surrounded, they'll be wiped out." The horses had lowered their heads and were moving off at a clatter—but the generals all sympathized with the men beneath the dust. Grasping their reins, they watched together uneasily. Shingen was silent, speaking to no one. Though it was what they had expected, their men were being struck down and falling one after another in the far-off cloud of dust, even as they looked on.
Some surely had a son, a father, or a brother in the rear guard. And not just among the retainers and generals that had gathered around Shingen. The whole army—right down to the foot soldiers—now looked to the side as they marched.
Riding up along the column, Oyamada Nobushige galloped to Shingen's side. Nobushige's voice was unusually excited and could clearly be heard by those nearby as he spoke from horseback: "My lord! We'll never have an opportunity like this again to massacre ten thousand of the enemy. I've just come from reconnoitering the enemy formation attacking our rear guard. Each company is spread out in a stork-wing formation. At a glance, it looks like a huge army, but the second and third ranks have no depth at all, and Ieyasu's center is protected by a small force hardly amounting to anything. Not only that, but the companies are in extreme disorder, and it's clear that the Oda reinforcements have no will to fight. If you'll take this opportunity and attack, my lord, you are bound to win."
As Nobushige blurted this out, Shingen looked back and then ordered some scouts to verify Nobushige's report.
Hearing the tone of Shingen's voice, Nobushige reined in his horse a little and held himself in check.
The two scouts galloped away. It was known that the enemy force was much smaller than their own, and Nobushige respected Shingen's refusal to make unconsidered movements, but he himself had the impatience of an unruly horse stamping at the ground and he was almost unable to restrain himself.
A military opportunity can disappear in the instant it takes lightning to strike!
The two scouts returned at a gallop and made their report: "Oyamada Nobushige's observations and our own reconnaissance are in complete agreement. This is an opportunity sent by heaven."
Shingen's voice boomed out. The white mane of his helmet shook back and forth as he gave out commands to the generals on his right and left. The conch rang out. When the twenty thousand men heard its sound, as it reverberated from the vanguard to the rear of the army, the marching line broke up with a pounding of the earth. And just as it appeared to be breaking up completely, it re-formed into a fish-scale formation and marched toward the Tokugawa army to the beating of drums.
Ieyasu was overawed when he saw the speed with which Shingen's army was moving and how it responded to his every command. He said, "If I ever reach Shingen's age, just once I'd like to be able to move a large army as skillfully as he does. Having seen his style of command, I wouldn't want him killed, even if someone offered to poison him right now."
Shingen's ability to command impressed even the generals of the enemy to that extent. Battles were his art. His brave generals and intrepid warriors decorated their horses, armor, and banners to achieve a more glorious passage to the next world. It was almost a though tens of thousands of hawks had been released at once from Shingen's fist.
In a single breath, they dashed close enough to see the enemies' faces. The Tokugawa turned like a huge wheel, holding their stork-wing formation, and faced the enemy like ahuman dam.
The dust raised by the two armies darkened the sky. Only the spears shining in the setting sun glittered in the darkness. The spear corps of Kai and that of Mikawa had advanced to the front and now stood facing each other. When either side raised a war cry the other side answered—almost as an echo. When the clouds of dust began to settle, the two sides could clearly see each other, but the distance that separated them was still considerable. No one would take a step out from the twin lines of spears.
At a time like this, even the bravest warriors shook with fear. One could say they were “scared," but this was completely different from ordinary fear. It was not that their wills were shaken; when they trembled, it was because they were making the change from everyday life to the life of battle. This took only seconds, but in that instant a man's skin turned to gooseflesh as purple as a rooster's comb.
For a province at war, the life of a soldier was no different from that of the farmer carrying the hoe or the weaver at his loom. Each was equally valuable, and if the province should fall, all would perish with it. Those who nevertheless ignored the rise and fall of their province and led lives of sloth were just like the dirt that clings to the human body—of less value than a single eyelash.
All of that aside, it was said that the instant of meeting the enemy face to face was terrifying. Heaven and earth were dark even at noon; You could not see what was right before your eyes, you could not go forward or retreat, and you were only jostled and shoved around on a line of readied spearheads.
And the man who was brave enough to step out from this line before all the others was granted the title of the First Spear. The man who became the First Spear won glory in front of the thousands of warriors of both armies. That first step, however, was not so eaily taken.
Then one man stepped forward.
"Kato Kuroji of the Tokugawa clan is the First Spear!" a samurai shouted out. Kato's armor was plain and his name unknown; he was most likely a common samurai of the Tougawa clan.
A second man dashed from the Tokugawa ranks. "Kuroji's younger brother, Genjiro, is the Second Spear!"
The older brother was swallowed by the enemy and disappeared into the confusion. "I'm the Second Spear! I'm Kato Kuroji's younger brother! Take a good look, you Takeda insects!" Genjiro brandished his spear at the mass of warriors four or five times. A Kai soldier, turning to meet him, yelled an insult and leaped forward to strike, Genjiro fell backward, but grabbed the spear that had slipped across the breastplate of his armor and jumped to his feet with a curse.
By that time his comrades had pushed their way through, but the Takeda had also turned and now came charging toward them. The scene was like billowing waves of blood, spears, and armor crashing into one other. Trampled by his own comrades and the horses' hooves, Genjiro screamed for his brother. Crawling on his hands and knees, however, he grabbed a Kai soldier by the foot and brought him down. He immediately cut off man's head and threw it away. After that, no one saw him again. The battle erupted in total confusion. But the clash between the right wing of the Tokugawa and the left wing of the Takeda had not reached this pitch of violence. The lines were spread out over a wide area. The droning of the drums and the sound of the conch shells rang within the dust clouds. Somehow, Shingen's retainers seemed to be situated to the rear. Neither army had the time to send their gunners to the front, so the Takeda sent the Mizumata—lightly armored samurai armed with stone slings—to the front line. The stones they shot fell like rain. Facing them were the forces of Sakai Tadatsugu, and behind them the reinforcements from the Oda clan. Tadatsugu was on horseback, clicking his tongue in annoyance.
The stones raining down on them from the front line of the Kai army were hitting his horse and making it go wild. And not only his horse. The horses of the mounted men who were waiting for their chance behind the spearmen reared and became so panicked they broke formation. The spearmen waited for orders from Tadatsugu, who had been holding them back with hoarse cries: "Not yet! Wait until I give the word!"
The slingers on the front line of the enemy had played the part of army sappers opening up an avenue of attack for the main force. Therefore, although the Mizumata corps was not particularly fearsome, the hand-picked troops behind them were waiting for their chance. Here were the banners of the Yamagata, Naito, and Oyamada corps, famed for their valor even within the Kai army.
It looks as though they're trying to provoke us by sending in the Mizumata, Tadatsugu thought. He could see through the enemy's strategy, but the left wing of the Tokugawa troops was already engaged in hand-to-hand combat, so the second line of the Oda was on its own. Furthermore, he couldn't be sure how Ieyasu was viewing this from his position in the center.
"Charge!" Tadatsugu yelled, opening his mouth almost wide enough to snap the cords of his helmet. He knew full well that he was falling into the enemy's trap, but he had been unable to gain the advantage since the beginning of the battle. The defeat of the Tokugawa and their allies began here.
The shower of rocks suddenly stopped. At the same moment the seven or eight hundred Mizumata broke off to the right and left and abruptly fell back.
"We're done for!" Tadatsugu yelled.
By the time he had seen the second line of the enemy, it was already too late. Lying concealed between the slingers and the cavalry was yet another line of men: the gunners. Each man was lying on his stomach in the tall grass, his gun at the ready.
There was a staccato clatter of musket fire as all the guns went off in a single volley, and a cloud of smoke rose from the grass. Because the angle of fire was low, many of the charging men of the Sakai corps were hit in the legs. The startled horses reared and were hit in the belly. Officers leaped from the saddle before their horses fell, and ran with their men, stepping over the corpses of their comrades.
"Fall back!" the commander of the Takeda gunners ordered.
The gunners immediately withdrew. To stay where they were would have meant being overrun by the charging Oda spearmen. With the muzzles of their horses in line, the Yamagata corps, the flower of Kai, galloped out with composure and dignity, followed immediately by the Obata corps. In minutes they had annihilated Sakai Tadatsugu's line.
Victory cries were raised proudly from the Kai army, when just as suddenly the Oyamada corps took a roundabout route and advanced on the flank of the Oda forces—second line of the Tokugawa defense—their horses raising the dust as they came. In the twinkling of an eye the Tokugawa were surrounded by the huge Kai army, as though by an iron wheel.
Ieyasu stood on a knoll and looked over at the lines of his men. We've lost, he said to himself. It was inevitable.
Gazing fixedly ahead, Torii Tadahiro, the ranking general of the Tokugawa under Ieyasu, had warned his lord not to advance, but rather to send out incendiary raids where the enemy would be bivouacking that night. But Shingen, ever the crafty enemy, had purposefully thrown out the bait with the small rear guard, and encouraged Ieyasu's attack.
"We can't just sit here. You must retreat to Hamamatsu," Tadahiro urged. "The faster you withdraw, the better."
Ieyasu said nothing.
"My lord! My lord!" Tadahiro pleaded.
Ieyasu was not looking at Tadahiro's face. As the sun set the white evening mist and the darkness were gradually becoming deeply divided at the edge of Mikatagahara. Riding the wintry wind, the banners of the messengers repeatedly brought in the sad news:
"Sakuma Nobumori of the Oda clan was crushed. Takigawa Kazumasu fell back in disorder, and Hirate Nagamasa was killed. Only Sakai Tadatsugu stands fast in hard fighting."
"Takeda Katsuyori combined his strength with the Yamagata corps and surrounded our left wing. Ishikawa Kazumasa was wounded, and Nakane Masateru and Aoki Hirotsugu are both dead."
"Matsudaira Yasuzumi galloped into the midst of the enemy and was cut down."
"The forces of Honda Tadamasa and Naruse Masayoshi aimed for Shingen's retainers and cut deeply into the enemy, but they were completely surrounded by several thousand men, and not one returned alive."
Suddenly, Tadahiro grabbed Ieyasu's arm and, with the help of other generals, pushed him up onto his horse.
"Get out of here!" he yelled at the horse, slapping it on the rump.
When Ieyasu was in the saddle and his horse was galloping away, Tadahiro and the other retainers mounted and went after him.
Snow began to fall. Perhaps it had been waiting for the sun to set. As the wind blew the snow thick and fast, it swept around the banners, men, and horses of the defeated army, making their way even less sure.
The men shouted out in confusion, "His Lordship… where is His Lordship?"
"Which way to headquarters?"
"Where is my regiment?"
The Kai gunners took aim at the fleeing men lost by the roadside, and fired volleys at them from the midst of the swirling snow.
"Retreat!" a Tokugawa soldier shouted. "The conch shell is sounding a withdrawal!"
"They must already have evacuated the headquarters," another rejoined.
A tidal wave of defeated men swept along in a black line toward the north, lost its way toward the west, and suffered many more casualties. Finally the men began to stampede in one direction, toward the south.
Ieyasu, who had just escaped from danger with Torii Tadahiro, looked back at the men following along behind, and suddenly stopped his horse. "Raise the banners. Raise the banners and assemble the men," he commanded.
Night was approaching fast, and the snow was steadily increasing. Ieyasu's retainers gathered around him and sounded the conch shell. Waving the commanders' standards, they called the men in. Gradually the men of the defeated army gathered around them. Every man was soaked in blood.
The corps of Baba Nobufusa and Obata Kazusa of the Kai army, however, knew that the main body of enemy troops was there, and very quickly began pressing in on them with bows and arrows from one side and guns from the other. It appeared that they would try to cut off their retreat.
"It's dangerous here, my lord. You'd better retreat as quickly as possible," Mizuno Sakon urged Ieyasu. Then, turning to the men, he announced, "Protect His Lordship. I am going to take a few men and attack the enemy. Anyone who wants to sacrifice his life for His Lordship, follow me."
Sakon galloped straight for the enemy line, without a look back to see whether anyone was following him. Thirty or forty soldiers followed after him, riding to certain death. Almost immediately, wailing, shouting, and the clash of swords and spears mingled with the moaning of the wind-borne snow and blurred into a vortex.
"Sakon must not die!" Ieyasu shouted. He was not his normal self at all. His retainers tried to stop him by grabbing the bridle of his horse, but he threw them off, and by the time they got up, he was already riding fast into the black and white vortex, looking exactly like a demon.
"My lord! My lord!" they yelled.
When Natsume Jirozaemon, the officer left in charge of Hamamatsu Castle, heard of the defeat of his comrades, he set out with a small force of thirty mounted men to ensure the safety of Ieyasu. Arriving at this point and finding his lord in the midst of a desperate fight, he jumped off his horse and ran toward the melee, shifting his spear to his left hand.
"Wha-what is this? This violence is not like you, my lord. Go back to Hamamatsu! Withdraw, my lord!" Grasping the horse's muzzle, he pulled it around with difficulty.
"Jirozaemon? Let me go! Are you fool enough to get in my way in the middle of the enemy?"
"If I'm a fool, my lord, you're an even bigger one! If you're cut down in a place like this, what good will all of our hardships have been until now? You'll be remembered as a fool of a general. If you want to distinguish yourself, then do something important for the nation on another day!" With tears in his eyes, Jirozaemon yelled at Ieyasu so loudly that his mouth almost split to his ears, and at the same time he beat Ieyasu's horse unmercifully with his spear. Of the retainers and close attendants who had been with Ieyasu the night before, there were many whose faces were no longer seen this evening. More than three hundred of Ieyasu's men had died in battle, and no one knew how many had been wounded.
Bearing the onus of belonging to a disastrously defeated army, the men filed back to the snow-covered castle town, looking as though they were disgusted with themselves. The retreat went on from evening until after midnight.
The sky had turned red, perhaps because there were bonfires at each of the castle gates. But the red color of the fallen snow was clearly from the blood of the returning warriors.
"What happened to His Lordship?" the men asked in tears. They had retreated thinking that Ieyasu had already returned to the castle, and were now told by the guards that he had not yet returned. Was he still surrounded by the enemy or had he been killed? Whichever it was, they had fled before their lord, and they were so ashamed that they refused to enter the castle. They simply stood outside, stamping their feet in the cold.
Adding to the confusion, gunfire was suddenly heard from beyond the western gate. It was the enemy. Death was pressing in on them. And if the Takeda had already come this far, Ieyasu's fate was truly in doubt.
Thinking that the end had come for the Tokugawa clan, they ran with a shout toward the sound of the guns, prepared to die in battle, their eyes devoid of any hope. As a group of them jostled through the gate, they nearly collided with several mounted men galloping in.
Beyond all expectation, the riders were their own commanders returning from battle, and the soldiers turned their pathetic cries into shouts of welcome, waving their swords and spears and leading the men inside. One rider, then another, and then yet another galloped in; the eighth was Ieyasu, one sleeve of his armor torn, and his body covered with blood and snow.
"It's Lord Ieyasu! Lord Ieyasu!"
As soon as they saw him, the word went from mouth to mouth, and the men leaped in the air, completely forgetting themselves.
Striding into the keep, Ieyasu yelled out in a loud voice, "Hisano! Hisano!" as if he were still on the battlefield.
The lady-in-waiting hurried toward him and prostrated herself. The flame on the small lamp she carried guttered in the wind, casting flickering light on Ieyasu's profile. There was blood on his cheek, and his hair was in appalling disarray.
"Bring a comb," he said, sitting down heavily. While Hisano arranged his hair, he gave her another order: "I'm hungry. Bring me something to eat."
When the food was brought in, he immediately picked up his chopsticks, but instead of eating he said, "Open up all the doors to the veranda."
Even with the lamps flickering, the room was brighter when the doors were wide open, because of the snow outside. Dark groups of warriors were resting on the veranda. As soon as Ieyasu had finished his meal, he left the keep and went around checking the castle's defenses. He ordered Amano Yasukage and Uemura Masakatsu to guard against an attack, and positioned the other commanders all the way from the main gate to the main entrance of the keep.
"Even if the entire Kai army attacks with all its strength, we're going to show them our own force of arms. They're not going to take possession of even one inch of these stone walls," they boasted.
Even if their voices were strained, their aim was to put Ieyasu at ease and to give him encouragement.
Ieyasu understood their intentions and nodded vigorously, but just as they were ready to run off to their posts, he called them back: "Don't close any of the castle gates from the main gate to the keep. Leave them all open. Do you understand?"
"What? What are you saying, my lord?" The commanders were hesitant. This order conflicted with the basic tenets of defense. The iron doors of all the gates had been shut. The enemy army was already closing in on the castle town, as it bore down to destroy them. Why would he order them to open the floodgates of the dike, just when a tidal wave was at hand?
Tadahiro said, "No, I don't think the situation warrants going that far. When our retreating troops arrive, we can open the gates and let them in. Certainly we don't need to leave the castle gates wide open for them."
Ieyasu laughed and admonished him for misunderstanding. "This is not for the men who are returning late. It's in preparation for the Takeda who are coming in like an arrogant tide, sure of their victory. And I don't just want the castle gates opened; I want five or six large bonfires lit in front of the entrance. You should also build some bonfires inside the castle walls. But make sure the defense is strictly in order. Be very quiet and watch for the enemy's approach."
What sort of fearless counter-strategy was this? But without the slightest hesitation, they did as he ordered.
According to Ieyasu's wishes, the castle gates were opened wide, and blazing bonfires cast their reflections in the snow from beyond the moat to the entrance of the keep. After gazing at the scene for a moment, Ieyasu once again went inside.
It appeared that the senior generals understood, but the soldiers in the castle for the most part seemed to believe the rumor spread by Ieyasu's own officer that Shingen was dead, and that the advancing enemy had lost its foremost general.
"I'm tired, Hisano. I think I'll have a cup of sake. Pour one for me, please." Ieyasu returned to the main hall and, after draining a cup, lay down. He pulled up the bedding that Hisano had put over him and then went to sleep with a snore.
Not much later, the troops of Baba Nobufusa and Yamagata Masakage poured in near the moat, in readiness for a night attack.
"What's this? Wait!" When Baba and Yamagata drew up in front of the castle gate, they reined in their horses and stopped the entire army from running hastily ahead.
"General Baba, what do you think?" Yamagata asked, drawing his horse up next to his colleague. He seemed to be totally puzzled. Baba had his doubts as well and looked out toward the enemy's gate. There, burning in the distance, were the bonfires, both before and within the castle gate. And the iron doors were wide open. It was gateless, and yet there was a gate. The situation seemed to pose a disturbing question.
The water in the moat was black, the snow on the fully manned castle was white. Not a sound could be heard. If the men listened very carefully, they could hear the crackling sound of the firewood in the distance. And if they had concentrated both mind and ears, they might have heard the snores of Ieyasu, the defeated general, as he dreamed—the very heart of this gateless gate—inside the keep.
Yamagata said, "I think our pursuit was so fast and the enemy has become so confused that they've had no time to close the castle gate and are lying low. We should attack at once."
No, wait," Baba interrupted. He had a reputation as one of the cleverest tacticians in Shingen's army. A wise man who cultivates wisdom may sometimes drown in it. He explained to Yamagata why his plan was wrong.
To have secured the castle gates would have been the natural psychology of defeat in this case. But leaving the castle wide open and taking the time to build bonfires is proof of the man's fearlessness and composure. If you think about it, he's undoubtedly waiting for us to attack rashly. He's concentrating on this one castle and is fully confident of his victory. Our opponent is a young general, but he is Tokugawa Ieyasu. We shouldn't step carelessly, only to bring shame on the martial reputation of the Takeda and be laughed later."
They had pressed that far, but in the end, both generals pulled their men back.
Inside, when Ieyasu heard his attendant's voice penetrating his sleep, he leaped up with a start. "I'm not dead!" he shouted, and jumped for joy. He immediately sent troops in pursuit. As might be expected of them, Yamagata and Baba did not lose their heads in the confusion, but rather threw up a resistance, set fires in the neighborhood of Naguri, and executed several brilliant maneuvers.
The Tokugawa had suffered a grave defeat, but it might be said that they had shown their mettle. Not only that, but they had once again caused Shingen to abandon his march to the capital and left him with no other choice than to withdraw to Kai. Many men had been sacrificed. Compared with the four hundred men of the Takeda, the dead and wounded on the Tokugawa side numbered as many as eleven hundred eighty.