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Sunset of Kai

Takeda Katsuyori had seen the coming of thirty springs. He was taller and broader than his father, Takeda Shingen, and it was said that he was a handsome man.

It was the third year after Shingen's death; the Fourth Month would be the end of the official period of mourning.

Shingen's final command, "Hide your mourning for three years," had been followed to the letter. But every year on the anniversary of his death, the lamps of all the temples of Kaiand particularly those of the Eirin Templewere lit for secret memorial services. For three days Katsuyori had forsaken all military matters and stayed shut up in the Bishamon Temple, deep in meditation.

On the third day, Katsuyori had the doors of the temple opened to let out the smoke of the incense burned during Shingen's memorial service. As soon as Katsuyori had changed his clothes, Atobe Oinosuke requested an urgent, private audience.

"My lord," Oinosuke began, "please read this letter immediately and give me an answer. A spoken one will do; I'll write the reply for you."

Katsuyori quickly opened the letter. "Well, now from Okazaki." It was clear that he had been expecting the letter for some time, and it was no ordinary expression that moved across his face as he read. For a moment he seemed unable to come to a decision.

The song of a bush warbler could be heard coming from amid the young greenery of approaching summer.

Katsuyori stared at the sky through the window. "I understand. That's my answer."

Oinosuke looked up at his master. "Will it be enough, my lord?" he asked, just to make sure.

It will," Katsuyori replied. "We shouldn't miss this heaven-sent opportunity. The messenger has to be a trustworthy man."

"This is an extremely important matter. You need have no worries about that." Not too long after Oinosuke had left the temple, the Office of State Affairs issued a call to arms. Soldiers could be seen moving throughout the night, and there was constant activity inside and outside the castle. When dawn broke, fourteen or fifteen thousand men, wet with the morning dew, were already silently waiting on the assembly ground outside the castle. And still more soldiers were coming. The conch shell proclaiming the departure of the troops rang out over the sleeping houses of Kofu several times before the sun rose.

Katsuyori had slept only a little during the night, but now he was in full armor. He did not look like a man suffering from lack of sleep, and his extraordinary good health and his dreams of greatness shone forth from his body like the dew on the new leaves.

He had not been idle for even one day during the three years since his father's death. Mountains and swift rivers formed strong natural defenses around Kai, but he was not content with the province he had inherited. He had, after all, been given more courage and resourcefulness than his father. Katsuyoriunlike the offspring of many great samurai clanscould not be called an unworthy son. Instead, it might be said that his pride, sense of duty, and his military prowess were excessive.

No matter how secret the clan had tried to keep it, news of Shingen's death had leaked out to the enemy provinces, and many had considered it too good an opportunity to miss. The Uesugi had made a sudden attack; the Hojo had also changed their attitude. And it was certain that if the opportunity were to arise, the Oda and the Tokugawa would make incursions from their own territories.

Katsuyori, like the son of any great man, found himself in a difficult position. Still he had never disgraced his father's name. In almost every engagement he fought, he came away with the victory. For this reason, rumors had spread that Shingen's death was just a fabrication, because he seemed to appear whenever an opportunity presented itself.

"Generals Baba and Yamagata have requested an audience before the campaign begins," a retainer announced.

The army was on the point of leaving when this message was delivered to Katsuyori. Both Baba Nobufusa and Yamagata Masakage had been senior retainers in Shingen's day.

Katsuyori asked in return, "Are they both ready to march?"

"Yes, my lord," the messenger replied.

Katsuyori nodded at the man's reply. "Show them in, then," he said.

Moments later the two generals appeared before Katsuyori. He already knew what they were going to say to him.

"As you can see," Baba began, "we hurried to the castle without a moment's delay at the call to arms last night. But this is extraordinary; there was no war council, and we were wondering what the prospects of this campaign are. Our situation these days does not allow us the luxury of frivolous troop movements." Yamagata continued, "Your late faher, Lord Shingen, tasted the bitter cup of defeat too many times when he attacked the west. Mikawa is small, but its warriors are stouthearted men, and the Oda have had time come up with a number of countermeasures by now. If we were to get in too deep, we might not be able to extricate ourselves."

Speaking in turn, the two men outlined their objections. These men were experienced veterans trained by the great Shingen himself, and they had no great regard for either Katsuyori's resourcefulness or his valor. On the contrary, they saw them as a danger. Katsuyori had felt this for some time, and his character would not let him accept their conservative advicethat the best thing to do would be to guard the borders of Kai for several years.

"You know I wouldn't start out on a rash campaign. Ask Oinosuke for the details. But this time we are sure to take Okazaki Castle and Hamamatsu Castle. I'll show them how to accomplish a long-cherished dream. We must keep our strategy a secret. I don't plan on telling our men what we're doing until we're pressing in on the enemy."

Katsuyori deftly avoided the remonstrances of his two generals, who both looked unhappy.

The advice to ask Oinosuke did not sit well with them; they were not used to being spoken to in this way. Of the same mind, the two men exchanged glances and for a moment looked at each other in blank amazement. Troops were being moved without anyone having consulted themShingen's veteran generalsand decisions were being made with the likes of Atobe Oinosuke.

Baba tried to speak to Katsuyori one more time. "We will listen to everything Master Oinosuke has to say later on, but if you would first tell us just a word or two about this secret plan, old generals like us will be able to make a stand with our eyes on a place to die."

"I'm not saying anything else here," Katsuyori said, looking at the men around him. Then he added severely, "I'm pleased that you're concerned, but I am not unaware of how important this present matter is. Moreover, I cannot now abandon the plan. Early this morning I swore an oath on the Mihata Tatenashi"

When they heard the sacred names, the two generals prostrated themselves and said a silent prayer. The Mihata Tatenashi were sacred relics venerated for generations by the Takeda clan. The Mihata was the banner of the war god Hachiman, and the Tatenashi was the armor of the clan's founder. It was an unbreakable rule of the Takeda clan that once an oath was sworn on these objects, it could not be broken.

Katsuyori's declaration that he was acting under this sacred oath meant that there were no further grounds upon which the two generals could continue to raise objections. At that moment the conch signaled the troops to get into formation and prepare to march out, forcing the two generals to take their leave. But, still worried about the fate of the clan, they rode to see Oinosuke at his position in the ranks.

Oinosuke cleared the area and proudly informed them of the plan. In Okazaki, which was now governed by Ieyasu's son, Nobuyasu, there was a man in charge of finances by the name of Oga Yashiro. Some time before, Oga had changed his allegiance to the Takeda clan and was now a trusted ally of Katsuyori.

The messenger who had come to Tsutsujigasaki two days before had carried a secret letter from Oga, which had informed them that the time was ripe. Nobunaga had been in the capital since the beginning of the year. Even before that, when Nobunaga had tried to destroy the warrior-monks of Nagashima, Ieyasu had sent no reinforcements, and the alliance between the two provinces had become somewhat strained.

When the Takeda army attacked Mikawa with its legendary speed, Oga would find a means to throw Okazaki Castle into confusion, open the castle gates, and let the Kai forces in. Katsuyori would then kill Nobuyasu and take the Tokugawa family hostage. Hamamatsu Castle would be forced to surrender, and its garrison would join the Takeda army, leaving Ieyasu no other choice but to flee to Ise or Mino.

"What do you think? Doesn't this sound like good news from heaven?" Oinosuke spoke proudly, as though the entire scheme had been his own. The two generals had no desire to hear any more. Leaving Oinosuke, they returned to their own regiments, looking at each other in silence.

"Baba, it's said that a province may fall, but the mountains and rivers endure. Neither of us wants to live to see the mountains and rivers of a ruined province," Yamagata said with deep feeling.

Baba nodded and said with a sad look in his eyes, "The end of our lives is swiftly approaching. All that is left for us is to find a good place to die, to follow our former lord, and to atone for the crime of being unworthy counselors."

Baba's and Yamagata's reputations as Shingen's bravest generals had traveled far beyond the borders of Kai. They were already gray when Shingen was alive, but after his death, their hair had quickly turned white.

The leaves on the mountains of Kai were a young and tender green, before the coming of that year's broiling summer, and the waters of the Fuefuki River babbled the song of eternal life. But how many soldiers wondered if they would ever see those mountains again?

The army was not what it had been when Shingen was alive. A plaintive note sounding the uncertainty of life was heard in the banners fluttering in the wind and in the sound of their marching feet. But the fifteen thousand troops beat the war drums, unfurled their banners, and marched across the border of Kai; and their majesty was reflected in the eyes of the people just as brilliantly as in Shingen's day.

Just as the crimson of the setting sun is similar to the sun at dawn, no matter where one lookedwhether at the colorful standard bearers and banners of each regiment, or at the massed armored cavalry that rode tightly around Katsuyorithere was no sign of decline. Katsuyori was supremely self-confident as he imagined the enemy castle at Okazaki ready in his hands. With the gold inlay of his visor reflecting on his handsome cheeks, the future of this young general seemed brilliant. And in fact he had already achieved victories that had stirred up Kai's fighting spirit, even after the death of the great Shingen.

Setting forth from Kai on the first day of the Fifth Month, they finally crossed Mount Hira from Totomi and entered into Mikawa proper, bivouacking in front of a river in the evening.

From the opposite bank, two enemy samurai came swimming toward them. The guards quickly took them captive. The two men were Tokugawa samurai who had been chased out of their own province. They asked to be taken before Katsuyori.

"What? Why have they fled here?" Katsuyori knew that it could only mean one thing: Oga's treachery had been discovered.

Katsuyori's mighty army had already entered Mikawa. Should I attack or fall back? Katsuyori asked himself over and over again. He was badly confused and discouraged. His strategy had depended on Oga's treachery and the confusion he would cause inside Okazaki Castle. Oga's detection and arrest were a disastrous setback. But having come this far, it would not be very gallant to fall back without accomplishing anything. On the other hand, it wouldn't be right to advance carelessly. Katsuyori's manly character was distressed in earnest. And it pricked his obstinate nature to recall that, when the army had left Kai, Baba and Yamagata had warned him not to do anything rash.

"Three thousand soldiers should start off toward Nagashino," he ordered. "I myself will attack Yoshida Castle and sweep the entire area."

Katsuyori struck camp before dawn and headed toward Yoshida. Lacking any confidence of success, he set fire to a few villages in a show of force. He did not attack Yoshida Castle, possibly because Ieyasu and his son, Nobuyasu, had made a clean sweep of the traitors and had quickly moved troops as far as Hajikamigahara.

Quite different from Katsuyori's army, which now, unable either to advance or to retreat, could only move to preserve its dignity, the Tokugawa forces had massacred the rebels and dashed out with great impetus.

"Are we a dying province or a rising one?" was their war cry. Their numbers might have been small, but their morale was completely different from that of Katsuyori's troops.

The vanguards of the two armies met in small clashes two or three times at Hajikamigahara. But the Kai forces were of no common order, either, and understanding that it would be difficult to match themselves to the enemy's martial spirit, they suddenly withdrew.

The cry went up, "To Nagashino! To Nagashino!" Making a quick reversal in their march, they showed the Tokugawa forces their backs and took off as though they had important business elsewhere.

Nagashino was an ancient battleground, and its castle was said to be impregnable. In the earlier part of the century, it had been controlled by the Imagawa clan; later it had been claimed by the Takeda clan as part of Kai. But then, in the first year of Tensho, it had been taken by Ieyasu and was now commanded by Okudaira Sadamasa of the Tokugawa clan, with a garrison of five hundred men.

Because of its strategic value, Nagashino was the center of all kinds of plots, betrayals, and bloodlettings, even during peacetime.

By the evening of the eighth day of the Fifth Month, the Kai army had besieged the castle's tiny garrison of five hundred men.

Nagashino Castle stood at the confluence of the Taki and Ono rivers in the mountainous region of eastern Mikawa. Behind it to the northeast there was nothing but mountains. Its moat, which drew its water from the fast-flowing streams of the two rivers, had a width that ranged from one hundred eighty to three hundred feet. The bank was ninety feet in height at its lowest point, and at its highest was a precipice of one hundred fifty feet. The depth of the water was no more than five or six feet, but the current was swift. And indeed, there were some frighteningly deep spots where water rose in sprays or twisted into seething rapids.

How ostentatious!" said Nagashino Castle's commander as he surveyed the meticulous disposition of Katsuyori's troops from the watchtower.

From around the tenth, Ieyasu had begun to send messengers to Nobunaga several times a day, to report on the situation at Nagashino. Any emergency for the Tokugawa was considered an emergency for the Oda, and the atmosphere in Gifu Castle was already uncommonly tense.

Nobunaga responded positively but didn't seem to be making any sudden move to mobilize his troops. The war council lasted two days.

"There's no hope for victory. Mobilizing the army would be useless," cautioned Mori Kawachi.

"No! That would be turning our backs on our duty!" someone else argued.

Others, like Nobumori, took the middle path. "As General Mori says, it's obvious that the chances of victory against Kai are slim, but if we put off mobilizing our troops, the Tokugawa may accuse us of bad faith, and if we're not careful, it's not impossible for them to change sides, make an accord with the Kai army, and turn against us. I think it best that we execute a passive deployment of the troops."

Then, from the midst of those attending the war council, a voice shouted out, "No! No!" It was Hideyoshi, who had hurried from Nagahama, bringing the troops under his command.

"I suppose the castle at Nagashino does not seem very important at this point," he went on, "but after it becomes a foothold for an invasion by Kai, the Tokugawa's defenses are going to be just like a broken dike, and if that happens, it's clear that the Tokugawa will not hold Kai for long. If we give that sort of advantage to Kai now, how will our own Gifu Castie have any security at all?" He spoke loudly, and his voice rang with emotion. Those present could do nothing other than look at him. He continued, "There is no military strategy I know of that advocates a passive deployment of troops once they are mobilized. Instead of that, shouldn't we march out immediately and confidently? Will the Oda fall? Will the Takeda win?"

All the generals thought that Nobunaga would send six or seven thousand troops no more than ten thousandbut on the following day he gave the order to make preparations for a huge army of thirty thousand men.

Although Nobunaga had not said that he agreed with Hideyoshi during the council, he was showing it now by his actions. His decision was in earnest and he was going to lead his troops himself.

"We may be calling these men reinforcements," he said, "but it is the fate of the Oda clan that hangs in the balance."

The army left Gifu on the thirteenth and reached Okazaki the next day. Nobunaga's army rested only one day. By the morning of the sixteenth day of that month, it had reached the front.

Horses throughout the village began to neigh as the clouds of dawn became visible. Banners rustled in the breeze, and the conch sounded far and wide. The number of troops that started out from the castle town of Okazaki that morning was indeed enormous, and the people of the small province were awed. They were both relieved by and envious of the number of troops and equipment mustered by the mighty province with which they were allied. When the thirty thousand Oda soldiers marched past with their various banners, insignia, and commanders' standards, the number of corps they were divided into was difficult to determine.

"Look at all the guns they have!" the people along the roadside exclaimed with surprise. The Tokugawa soldiers were unable to hide their envy: out of Nobunaga's thirty thousand soldiers, close to ten thousand were gunners. They also pulled along huge cast iron cannons. But what was strangest of all was that almost every foot soldier who was not carrying a gun shouldered instead a stake of the kind used to make a palisade, and length of rope.

"What do you think the Oda are going to do with all those stakes?" the onlookers wondered.

The Tokugawa army that had set off for the front lines that morning had numbered fewer than eight thousand men. And that was the bulk of the army. The only thing they did not fall short in was morale.

To the Oda, this was foreign territoryan area they were coming to as relief troops. But to the warriors of the Tokugawa clan, this was the land of their ancestors. It was land the enemy was not to take a single step into, and from which there was absolutely no place to retreat. Even the foot soldiers were filled with the spirit of this belief from the time they started out, and they shared a certain tragic feeling. Comparing their equipment with that of the Oda army, they could see that they were sadly inferior; in fact, there was no comparison at all. But they did not feel inferior. When they had distanced themselves several leagues from the castle town, the Tokugawa forces quickened their pace. When they approached the village of Ushikubo, they changed their direction, hurrying away from the Oda troops and toward Shidaragahara like storm clouds.

Mount Gokurakuji stood directiy in front of the plain of Shidaragahara, and from its peak one could point to the Takeda positions at Tobigasu, Kiyoida, and Arumigahara.

Nobunaga set up his headquarters on Mount Gokurakuji, while Ieyasu chose Mount Danjo. The thirty-eight thousand Tokugawa and Oda forces deployed on these two mountains had already finished their preparations for the coming battle.

The sky filled with clouds, but there was no hint of lightning or wind.

On Mount Gokurakuji, the generals of both the Oda and Tokugawa clans gathered in a temple at the top of the mountain for a joint military conference. In the middle of the conference it was announced to Ieyasu that the scouts had just returned.

When Nobunaga heard this, he said, "They've come at a good time. Bring them here, and we can all listen to their reports on the enemy's movements."

The two scouts made their reports in a rather pompous way. The first began, "Lord Katsuyori has made his headquarters to the west of Arumigahara. His retainers and cavalry are, indeed, quite hale. They seemed to number close to four thousand men, and appeared to be quite composed and self-possessed."

The second went on, "Obata Nobusada and his attack corps are overlooking the battlefield from a low hill a little to the south of Kiyoida. I could see that the main army of about three thousand men under Naito Shuri is encamped from Kiyoida to Asai. The left wing, which also numbers about three thousand, is under the standards of Yamagata Masakage and Oyamada Nobushige. Finally, the right wing is under Anayama Baisets and Baba Nobufusa. They look extremely impressive."

"What about the troops laying siege to Nagashino Castle?" Ieyasu asked.

"About two thousand troops have remained around the castle and are keeping it tightly in check. There also seems to be a surveillance corps on a hill to the west of the castle, and it's possible that about a thousand soldiers are concealed in the fortresses around Tobigasu."

The reports of the two men were, for the most part, rather incomplete. But the generals of the units they mentioned were famous beyond measure for their ferocity and valor, and Baba and Obata were both strategists of immense reputation. As the Oda and Tokugawa generals listened to the scouts' account of the enemies' positions, the vehemence of their will to fight, and their composure and self-confidence, the color drained from their faces.

They were silent, like men consumed by dread just before a battle. Suddenly Sakai Tadatsugu spoke, in a voice so loud it surprised the men around him.

"The outcome is already clear. There is no need for further discussion. How is an enemy of such scant numbers going to be a match for our own huge army?"

"That's enough conferring!" Nobunaga agreed, and slapped his knee. "Tadatsugu has spoken admirably. To the eyes of a coward, the crane that flies across the paddies looks like an enemy banner and makes him quake with fear," he laughed. "I feel greatly relieved by the reports of these two men. Lord Ieyasu, we should celebrate!"

Having been praised, Sakai Tadatsugu got a bit carried away and said, "My own opinion is that the enemy's greatest weakness is at Tobigasu. If we took a roundabout route and struck at their weak point from the rear with some lightly armed soldiers, the morale of their entire army would be thrown into confusion, and our men"

"Tadatsugu!" Nobunaga said sharply. "What good is such a ploy in this great battle? You're being presumptuous. I think everybody had better withdraw!" Using the reprimand as an excuse, Nobunaga adjourned the conference. Shamefaced, Tadatsugu left with the others.

When all had left, however, Nobunaga said to Ieyasu, "Forgive me for rebuking that brave Tadatsugu so severely in front of all the others. I think his plan is excellent, but I was afraid that it might leak out to the enemy. Would you console him later?"

"No, it was clearly an indiscretion on Tadatsugu's part to reveal our plans, even though he was among allies. It was a good lesson for him. And I learned something, too."

"I rebuked him so severely that I doubt that even our own men will expect us to use the plan. Call Tadatsugu, and give him permission to make a surprise attack on Tobigasu."

"I'm sure it is his fondest wish to hear just that."

Ieyasu summoned Tadatsugu and related Nobunaga's wishes.

Tadatsugu needed no further urging to go into action. Under extreme secrecy, he finished the preparations for his unit and then had a private audience with Nobunaga.

"I'll be leaving at sunset, my lord," were Tadatsugu's only words.

Nobunaga, too, said little. Nevertheless, he assigned five hundred of his gunners to Tadatsugu. The entire force comprised more than three thousand men.

They left the encampment at nightfall, in the absolute darkness of the Fifth Month. About the time they got under way, stripes of white rain were cutting diagonally through the darkness. The downpour drenched them to the skin as they marched along in silence.

Before climbing Mount Matsu, the entire company hid in a temple compound at the foot of the mountain. The soldiers took off their armor, left their horses behind, and shouldered whatever equipment they would take with them.

The slope was painfully steep and muddy from the torrential rain. Every time the men took a step forward, they would slip back. Hanging on to the shafts of the spears and grasping the hands of their comrades above them, they scaled the three hundred fifty yards to the summit.

A pale whiteness was beginning to appear in the night sky, announcing the coming dawn. The clouds began to part, and the splendor of the morning sun pierced the thick sea of mist.

"It's clearing!"

"Luck from heaven!"

"Conditions are perfect!"

At the top of the mountain the men put on their armor and divided into two groups. The first would make a dawn raid on the enemy fortress on the mountain, and the other would attack Tobigasu.

The Takeda had underestimated the danger, and now their waking shouts broke out in confusion. The fires set by Tadatsugu's forces sent black smoke rising from the mountain stronghold. The Takeda fled in a disorderly rout toward Tobigasu. But by then Tadatsugu's second division had already breached the castle walls.

The night before, after Tadatsugu's departure, Nobunaga's entire army had been given the order to advance. But this was not to be the outbreak of the battle.

The army defied the driving rain and moved on toward the neighborhood of Mount Chausu. From that time until dawn, the soldiers pounded the stakes they had carried into the ground, and bound them together with rope to create a palisade that looked like a meandering centipede.

As dawn was nearing, Nobunaga inspected the defenses on horseback. The rain had stopped, and the construction of the palisade had been completed.

Nobunaga turned to the Tokugawa generals and yelled at them with a laugh, "Wait and see! Today we're going to let the Kai army come close, and then we'll handle them like molting skylarks."

I wonder, each of them thought. They imagined that he was just trying to reassure them. But what they could clearly see was that the soldiers from Gifuthe troops who had shouldered the stakes and ropes all the way from Okazakiwere now on the battlefield. And the thirty thousand stakes had become a long, serpentine palisade.

"Let the picked troops of Kai come on!"

The construction itself, however, could not be used to attack the enemy. And to annihilate the enemy in the way Nobunaga had described, they would have to draw him toward the palisade. To lure him, one of Sakuma Nobumori's units and Okubo Tadayo's gunners were sent outside the palisade to wait for the enemy.

Suddenly a chorus of voices lifted skyward. The Takeda had been careless with their enemies, and their shouts of dismay came when they saw the black smoke rising from the direction of Tobigasu, behind them.

"The enemy is behind us, too!"

"They're pressing in from the rear!"

As their agitation began to turn to panic, Katsuyori gave the command to charge. Don't delay for a moment! Waiting for the enemy will only give them the advantage!"

His own self-confidence, and the faith of his troops that was based on that self-confidence, amounted to this creed: Don't even question me! Have faith in a martial valor that has never known defeat since the time of Lord Shingen.

But civilization moves on like a horse at full gallop. The Southern Barbariansthe Portuguesehad revolutionized warfare with the introduction of firearms. How sad that Takeda Shingen had not had the wisdom to foresee this. Kai, protected by its mountains, ravines, and rivers, was cut off from the center of things and isolated from foreign influences. In addition, its samurai were consumed by an obstinacy and conceit particular to the men of a mountainous province. They had very little fear of their own shortcomings, and no desire to study the ways of other lands. The upshot was that they relied completely on their cavalry and picked troops. The forces under Yamagata fiercely attacked the troops of Sakuma Nobumori outside the palisade. In contrast, Nobunaga had planned a fully scientific strategy, using modern tactics and weapons.

The rain had just stopped; the ground was muddy.

The left wing of the Kai armythe two thousand troops under Yamagatareceived their general's command not to attack the palisade. They took a roundabout route to by-pass it. But the mire was horrible. The downpour of the night before had caused the brook to overflow its banks. This natural calamity was unforeseen even by Yamagata, who had fully surveyed the lay of the land beforehand. The soldiers sank into the mud up to their shins. The horses were unable to move.

To add to their troubles, the Oda gunners under Okubo began to fire at Yamagata's flank.

"Turn!" Yamagata ordered.

With this short command, the mud-covered army changed its direction once again and thrust toward Okubo's gunners. Tiny sprays of mud appeared to spatter all over the two thousand armored men. Struck by the rifle fire, they fell, yelling as red blood spurted from them. Trampled by their own horses, they cried out in pathetic confusion.

Finally the armies collided. For decades, warfare had been changing. The ancient fighting style in which each samurai called out his own name and declared that he was the descendant of so-and-so, that his master was the lord of such-and-such a province, was fast disappearing.

Thus, once hand-to-hand fighting broke outnaked blade biting against naked blade and warrior grappling with warriorits horror was beyond words.

The best weapons were first the gun and then the spear. The spear was not used for stabbing, but rather for brandishing, flailing, and striking, and these were the methods taught for the battlefield. Advantage, therefore, was perceived in length, and there were spears with shafts anywhere from twelve to eighteen feet long.

The common soldiers were lacking both in the training and in the courage that the siuation demanded, and were really only capable of striking with their spears. Thus there were many occasions when a skillful warrior would rush into their midst with a short spear, thrust in every direction, and, almost with ease, win himself the fame accorded a single warrior who had struck down dozens of men.

Attacked by swarms of these men, both the Tokugawa and the Oda forces were helpless. The Okubo corps was wiped out almost instantly. The reason the Okubo corps and the Sakuma forces were outside of the palisade, however, was to draw the enemy in, not to win. For this reason it would have been all right for them to turn and run. But as soon as they saw the faces of the Kai soldiers in front of them, they were unable to keep years of animosity from igniting in their hearts.

"Come and get us!" they cried.

Neither would they stand for the jeers and insults of the Kai warriors. Inevitably, the Oda men cast caution aside in the midst of all the blood, and thought only of their own province and reputations.

While this was going on, Katsuyori and his generals must have thought that the time was right, for the center battalions of Kai's fifteen-thousand-man army began to advance like a giant cloud. Their orderly formations broke up like a gigantic flock of birds taking flight, and as they finally approached the palisade, each corps simultaneously screamed its war cries.

To the eyes of the Takeda, the wooden palisade clearly appeared to be nothing much at all. They thought they would force their way through, breaking through with a single charge, boring right into the central Oda army like a drill.

Raising a battle cry, the Kai forces charged the palisade. They were determined some tried to clamber over, some to beat the fence down with huge mallets and iron staffs, some to cut through it with saws, and some to douse it with oil and burn it down.

Nobunaga had left the fighting to the Sakuma and Okubo corps outside the palisade until then, and the ranks on Mount Chausu were silent. But suddenly

"Now!"

Nobunaga's golden war fan cut through the air, and the commanders of the firearms regiments competed with each other in yelling out the order:

"Fire!"

"Fire!"

The earth shook at the volleys of gunfire. The mountain split open and the clouds were shredded. Powder smoke shrouded the palisade, and the horses and men of the Kai army fell like mosquitoes into piles of corpses.

"Don't retreat!" their commanders urged. "Follow me!"

Recklessly charging the palisade, the soldiers leaped over the dead bodies of their comrades, but they were unable to avoid the oncoming rain of bullets. Screaming pathetically, they ended up as corpses themselves.

In the end, the Kai army could no longer stand its ground.

'Retreat!" screamed four or five mounted commanders, pulling back their horses, the command somehow wrung from their throats even in their panic. One fell, covered with blood, while another was thrown from his whinnying horse as it went down under a hail of bullets.

No matter how badly they had been beaten, however, their spirit was not broken.

They had lost almost one-third of their men in the first charge, but the instant they retreated, a fresh force once again hastened toward the palisade. The blood that had spattered the thirty thousand stakes had not yet dried.

The gunfire coming from the palisade answered their charge directly, as if to say, We've been waiting.

Glaring at the palisade dyed red with the blood of their comrades, the fierce soldiers of Kai screamed as they charged, encouraging one another, vowing that they would never retreat a single yard.

"It's time to die!"

"On to our deaths!"

"Make a death shield so the others can leap over us!"

The "death shield" was a last-ditch tactic in which soldiers in the front rank sacrificed themselves to protect the advance of the next rank. Then that rank in turn acted as a shield for the troops following, and in this way the troops pressed on step by step. It was a terrible way to advance.

These were, indeed, brave men; but surely this charge was nothing more than a futile display of brute strength. And yet there were able tacticians among the generals leading the assault.

Katsuyori, of course, was at the rear, urging his men to go forward, but had his commanders known that victory was an absolute impossibility, there would have been no reason to ask for such an immense sacrifice and repeatedly to push the troops too far.

"That wall must be broken down!"

They must have believed that it could be done. Once the guns of that period were fired, reloading the ball and repacking the gunpowder took time. Thus, once a volley had been fired, the sound of gunfire would stop for a while. It was that interval that the Kai generals considered a window to be taken advantage of; thus the "death shield" was not begrudged.

Nobunaga, however, had considered that particular weak point, and for the new weapons he had devised new tactics. In this case, he divided his three thousand gunners to three groups. When the first thousand men had fired their weapons, each man would quickly step to the side and the second group would advance through their ranks, immediately firing their own volley. They, too, would then open their ranks and be quickly replaced by the third group. In this way, the interval the enemy so hoped for was never given to them throughout the entire battle.

Again, there were openings here and there in the palisade. Measuring the intervals between the tides of charges, the Oda and Tokugawa spear corps would dash out from inside the palisade and quickly strike at both wings of the Kai army.

Obstructed by the protective palisade and the gunfire, the Kai soldiers were unable to advance. When they attempted to retreat, they were harassed by the enemy's pursuit and the pincer attack. Now the Kai warriors, who took such pride in their discipline and training, did not have even a moment to exhibit their courage.

The Yamagata corps had retreated altogether, leaving behind a large number of men who had sacrificed their lives. Only Baba Nobufusa had not fallen into the trap.

Baba had clashed with the troops of Sakuma Nobumori, but as Nobumori had only been there originally as a decoy, the Oda troops feinted a retreat. The Baba corps chased after them and took possession of the encampment at Maruyama, but Baba's orders were to go no deeper, and he did not send a single soldier beyond Maruyama.

"Why don't you advance!" Baba was repeatedly asked by both Katsuyori's headquarters and his own officers.

Baba, however, would not move. "I have my own reasons to ponder over for a moment, and I'd better stop here to observe what is occurring. The rest of you should go ahead and advance. Win some glory for yourselves."

Every commander who got near enough to attack the palisade met with the same overwhelming defeat. And then Katsuie and Hideyoshi led their battalions far around the villages to the north and began to cut off the headquarters of the Kai army from the front lines.

It was almost noon, and the sun was high in a sky that promised the end of the rainy season. It now burned down on the earth with an abrupt heat and with a color that announced an intense summer.

Hostilities had begun at dawn, at the second half of the Hour of the Tiger. With the continual change of new troops, the men of the Kai army were by this time bathed in sweat and breathing hard. The blood that had been shed in the morning had dried like glue on the leather of their armor and on their hair and skin. And now there was fresh blood wherever one looked.

Behind the central army, Katsuyori was howling like a demon. Finally he had sent every battalion, including the reserve corps usually held back for emergencies. If Katsuyori had understood the situation more quickly, he might have finished the matter with only fraction of the damage his army incurred. But instead, moment by moment, he himself turned a small mistake into a monstrous one. In short, this was not simply a matter martial spirit and courage. It was the same as if the forces of Nobunaga and Ieyasu had set snares at the hunting grounds and waited for wild ducks or boars to come. The Kai regiments that attacked so fiercely did nothing more than lose their valuable soldiers in a pointless "death shield."

Alas, it was said that even Yamagata Masakage, who had fought so well with the left wing since morning, had been struck down in battle. Other famous generals, men of great courage, went down one after another, until the dead and wounded numbered over half of the entire army.

"It's obvious that the enemy is going to be defeated. Isn't this the right moment?"

The general who spoke was Sassa Narimasa, who had been watching battle with Nobunaga.

Nobunaga immediately had Narimasa transmit his orders to the troops inside the palisade. He said, "Leave the palisade and attack. Destroy them all!"

Even Katsuyori's headquarters collapsed in the attack. The Tokugawa pressed in on the left. The Oda broke through the Takeda vanguard and made a fierce assault on the central army. Caught in the middle, the numerous banners, commanders' standards, signal flags, whinnying horses, shining armor, and spears and swords that sparkled like constellations around Katsuyori were now enveloped in blood and panic.

Only the forces of Baba Nobufusa, which had remained at Maruyama, were still intact. Baba sent a samurai to Katsuyori with a message advocating retreat.

Katsuyori stamped the ground with vexation. But he was unable to defy reality. Defeated, the central corps had retreated, covered with blood.

"We should retreat temporarily, my lord."

"Swallow your anger and think of what our prospects are."

Desperately leading the men of the main camp, Katsuyori's generals somehow extricated him from the trap he was in. To the enemy it was clear that the central Kai army was in a disorderly retreat.

When they had accompanied Katsuyori as far as a nearby bridge, the generals turned back, forming a rear guard to fight with the pursuing troops. They were heroically struck down in battle. Baba had also accompanied the fleeing Katsuyori and the pathetic remnants of his army as far as Miyawaki, but finally the old general turned his horse to the west, his breast filled with a thousand thoughts.

I've lived a long life. Or I could say it's been short, too. Truly long or truly short, only this one moment is eternal, I suppose. The moment of death Can eternal life be anything more than that?

Then, just before galloping into the midst of the enemy, he swore, I'll make my excuses to Lord Shingen in the next world. I was an incompetent counselor and general. Good-bye, you mountains and rivers of Kai!

Turning around, he shed a single tear for his province, then suddenly spurred his horse. "Death! I won't dishonor the name of Lord Shingen!"

His voice sank into the sea of the great enemy army. It is hardly necessary to add that each of his retainers followed him, to be struck down gloriously.

From the very beginning, no one had been able to see through this battle as Baba had. He had doubtless perceived that, after it, the Takeda clan would fall and would even be destroyed, and that that was its fate. Nevertheless, even with his foresight and loyalty, he was unable to save the clan from disaster. The huge forces of change were simply overwhelming.

Together with a dozen or so mounted attendants, Katsuyori crossed over the shallows of Komatsugase and finally sought shelter in Busetsu Castle. Katsuyori was a courageous nan, but now he was as speechless as a deaf mute.

The entire surface of Shidaragahara was reda deep redas the sun began to sink. The great battle this day had commenced around dawn and finished in the late afternoon. No horse neighed; not a soldier cried out. The wide plain quickly sank into darkness in :omplete desolation.

The dew of night settled before the dead could be carried away. The Takeda corpses alone were said to have numbered more than ten thousand.


Characters and Places | Taiko | The Towers of Azuchi