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The Clash of Dragon and Tiger

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Takeda Shingen

(1521~1573)

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Uesugi Kenshin

(1530~1578)

          In Eastern culture, the fierce rivalry between two powerful entities is often described as a battle between a dragon and a tiger. This metaphor became a reality over 400 years ago during Japan's Sengoku period. The lord of Kai (present-day Yamanashi Prefecture), Takeda Shingen, known as the "Tiger of Kai," was renowned for his strategic acumen. A fervent admirer of the ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu, Shingen emblazoned his battle flag with the famous dictum from "The Art of War": " As swift as wind, as gentle as forest, as fierce as fire, as unshakable as mountain.." Under his command, the Takeda forces enjoyed a series of victories, quickly conquering vast territories in their battles against various clans in Shinano Province (now Nagano Prefecture). Unable to withstand the Takeda army's onslaught, the northern Shinano clans sought assistance from Uesugi Kenshin, the lord of Echigo Province (present-day Niigata Prefecture).

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        Uesugi Kenshin, dubbed the "Dragon of Echigo," had an unusual upbringing. As the second son, he was sent to a temple in his youth, where he embraced Buddhism and became a devout follower of Bishamonten, the god of war and guardian of the northern direction in Japanese Buddhism. Kenshin believed himself to be the incarnation of Bishamonten, with a divine duty to eradicate evil and injustice from the world. Despite living in a time of constant warfare, Kenshin held a deep disdain for wars of territorial aggression. Consequently, when the northern Shinano clans appealed for his help, he unhesitatingly agreed and mobilized his forces to confront Takeda Shingen at Kawanakajima.

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The Fourth Battle of Kawanakajima

       

         Over eleven years, the armies of Uesugi Kenshin and Takeda Shingen clashed five times at Kawanakajima, with none of the encounters yielding a decisive victory. The fourth battle, fought in 1561, was particularly intense. To consolidate his control over Shinano and continue his northward expansion, Takeda Shingen constructed Kaizu Castle (present-day Matsushiro Castle) near Kawanakajima.

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          Upon learning of this, Uesugi Kenshin positioned his 15,000 troops on a mountain southwest of the castle. Takeda Shingen advanced with 20,000 troops, planning a pincer movement: one contingent would launch a surprise attack on Kenshin's forces on the mountain, while the other would intercept them on the plains below. However, Kenshin, discerning Shingen's strategy, preemptively descended from the mountain and attacked the Takeda forces. The Takeda army, caught off guard, was thrown into disarray, resulting in significant losses, including Shingen's brother and numerous samurai. In a dramatic moment, Kenshin personally charged into Shingen's main camp, striking him thrice with his sword before making a daring retreat.

      As the other Takeda contingent returned to reinforce, Kenshin, recognizing that a decisive victory was unattainable, withdrew his troops. The battle concluded in a stalemate, marking yet another inconclusive chapter in the prolonged conflict between these two legendary warlords.

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Zenkoji Temple

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          Zenkoji Temple is located in downtown Nagano City, Nagano Prefecture, north of the Kawanakajima battlefield. It is believed to have a history of over a thousand years. Revered by numerous Buddhist followers in Japan, it is considered a temple one must visit at least once in a lifetime.

          During the multiple battles between Uesugi Kenshin and Takeda Shingen, Zenkoji Temple served as Uesugi Kenshin’s main camp or granary, playing a crucial role. Due to their conflicts, the temple was burned down several times. After the Warring States period ended, it was rebuilt and now serves as a tourist attraction in Nagano, drawing not only Japanese visitors but also an increasing number of tourists from abroad.

Tokagushi Shrine

  Tokagushi Shrine is very famous within Japan, with a history purportedly spanning over 2,000 years. Its deep mountain location has made it a prime spot for monks seeking to practice asceticism. The Tokagushi area is also one of the birthplaces of ninjas, and during the Warring States period, the Tokagushi ninjas played a significant role.

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  In the fourth battle of Kawanakajima, Tokagushi ninjas served Uesugi Kenshin. It is said that during this battle, they discovered the movements of Takeda’s army and conveyed crucial information to Uesugi Kenshin, giving his forces an advantage on the battlefield.

  Today, the Tokagushi mountain range, which includes Tokagushi Shrine, is designated a national park in Japan. Its tranquil and secluded environment attracts a large number of domestic tourists.

Kawanakajima Battlefield Ruins

        Located in the suburbs of Nagano City, this site was the main camp of Takeda Shingen during the fourth battle of Kawanakajima. It is now a public park and houses the Nagano City Museum.

       Within the park, there is a statue depicting Uesugi Kenshin attacking Takeda Shingen with a sword—based on numerous legends. According to these stories, during the most intense moment of the battle, Uesugi Kenshin seized the opportunity, rode alone into the vulnerable main camp of Takeda Shingen, and slashed at him with a sword, which Shingen blocked with his war fan. Kenshin struck three times before riding away gracefully.

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Matsushiro Castle
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         Built as a forward base before the fourth battle of Kawanakajima, it was originally named Kaitsu Castle. During the Edo period, the castle was given to the Sanada Clan and renamed Matsushiro Castle. Today, only a few ruins remain, but the nearby treasure museum and the old clan school retain a large number of historical artifacts, making it an excellent place to learn about the history of the area.

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