Takeda Shingen (1521-1573) has been described as the prime example of the Warring States period daimyo in that he was tremendously successful in accomplishing limited, regional goals (expansion of his domains) by means of a series of temporary alliances which were quickly broken or reformed according to the need of the moment. Regional success was perhaps all Shingen ever had in mind; unlike the three men who unified Japan, Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu, he did not exhibit the long-range vision or strategic wisdom necessary in the confused events of the time. Shingen and the fall of the Takeda house are featured in the Akira Kurosawa movie, Kagemusha (Shadow Warrior).
Shingen rose to head his family by deposing his father in 1541. The Takeda holdings were in the mountainous area of Kai (now Yamanashi prefecture), within sight of Mt. Fuji. The surrounding area was extremely rough and controlled by small-scale strongmen who fell one by one to Shingen’s attacks. In 1559, he was appointed shugo (constable) of the province of Shinano (present-day Nagano prefecture) by the Ashikaga shogunate, legitimizing his aggression.
This rise in status thrust Shingen into the national arena. He began a long rivalry with the Uesugi family to his north, one of the more famous and romantic tales of the Warring States period. Shingen also had to deal with other powerful neighbors such as the Hojo, the Imagawa, the Tokugawa and The Oda and there was a constantly changing pattern of alliances between these major families in the 1560s which had little result. Shingen seemed to shift into different alliances for extremely short-term advantages, giving his policies a very disruptive effect as well as the impression that he did not have the vision to make further progress.
One year before his death, Shingen struck out toward the west with the apparent intention of coming to the aid of the Ashikaga shogun who was dominated by Oda Nobunaga. The shogun turned against Nobunaga who, once he had repulsed Shingen with the aid of Tokugawa Ieyasu, did away with the shogunate altogether. Shingen fell ill and died while returning to his home castle which was on the shores of Lake Suwa. This strategically located castle gave Shingen control up the valley toward Matsumoto and Nagano cities, down the Kiso River valley toward Gifu and Kyoto, and through the mountains past Mt. Fuji to the Kanto (Edo or present Tokyo) region.
He was succeeded by his son, Katsuyori, who proved to be less able than his father. Together with allies, Katsuyori harassed the flanks of Tokugawa Ieyasu and in the late 1570s, he was able to push into the heartland of the Tokugawa lands. In 1575 Ieyasu and Nobunaga joined to crush Katsuyori’s forces at the Battle of Nagashino. The battle was a crucial step in Nobunaga’s assertion of national control. In the battle, the victors employed some 3,000 firearms behind fortifications to decimate Katsuyori’s mounted samurai. The Takeda family which had been an important military house ever since the Kamakura period (1185-1333) virtually disappeared a few years later when Katsuyori committed suicide, although families descended from their samurai retainers still memorialize the Takeda.