The Mystery of Shingen Takeda's Death
October 1, 2003 · 8:11am EST · Posted by Fujiyama Dojo
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Much has been written about Shingen Takeda's life, but comparatively little has been written about the details of his death. The reason for this may lie in the fact that the famous Lord of Kai's demise remains one of Japanese history's mysteries.

Professor K. Hiraizumi wrote, relating to the treatment of Japanese history in general, that "the contemporary Japanese scholar's obsession with completion and finality which compels our modern historians to state as a definitive fact what is mere speculation. The simplest of probabilities, which are the most readily accepted, are not very often the truth. But once we have conceded that, we must also consider rewriting our history books, and, to most of us in Academe, that is unacceptable. How hard it is for a vain man with a little knowledge to say, 'I do not know', or to admit that our hard-acquired little knowledge is flawed." Takeda Shingen's death has suffered the consequences of such mentality, if we are to accept Professor Hiraizumi's words.

As Genki 3 (1572) rolled on, Shingen Takeda's military objectives seemed to have forward momentum. He had defeated Ieyasu Tokugawa at Mikatagahara. The next year, Tenshou 1 (1573), he was able to capture Noda Castle at Mikawa. But it is here that history, and tradition, offer conflicting accounts.

Shingen Takeda does not confront Nobunaga Oda's forces immediately. Instead, he withdraws to Yamanashi. Some historians explain his atypical decision by inferring that the true reason for this move was Takeda's rapidly deteriorating health. Others insist that Shingen suffered a lethal head wound during the siege of a castle. A third theory attributes the cause of death to pneumonia. These are not, by any means, the only explanations possible, but what they all have in common is that each theory is given as an absolute fact by each of their supporters.

Shingen-Ko (Prince Takeda) died at Komanba, Shinano (present day Nagano prefecture), on the way back to his domain. He was 53 years of age. Of course, the fact that the reason for his death is unknown takes nothing away from the life of this fascinating daimyo.

An uncommonly candid and obviously well-informed TV reporter called the incident of Shingen Takeda's death "a little mystery in a big life", admitted his ignorance, and went on to describe the festival he was covering at the time, the reenactment of the battle of Kawanakajima. Quite refreshing, indeed.

One account of Shingen Takeda's death tells us that, when he was very close to death, the daimyo called for his fourth son, Katsuyori, and asked him to keep his death secret for three years. In some ways, he did his job too well. All we have been left with are a few contradictory accounts, speculation, and a colorful legend with multiple endings which somehow manage to find their way into the history books. The details of the death of Shingen-Ko will remain a secret.


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