Saturday, December 6, 2014

Chapter 7. Clash of the Titans

Not long after Kenshin’s marriage to Sakura, Sakamoto Hachida fled to the Takeda clan where he served Shingen. Before he went, he fueled the enmity between Uesungi and Takeda by burning some fortresses at Yozenawa and whispered ill into Shingen’s ears. Shingen was now married, but deep in his heart, he still felt anger with Kenshin, who was now daimyo of Uesungi following Takotara’s death. He could remember the deep conviction in Kenshin’s eyes and realized that he would never dominate Japan as long as Uesungi Kenshin still lived.

The Battle of Kawanakajima between Takeda Shingen and Uesungi Kenshin

And so he sought to crush the Uesungi clan once and for all. Shingen was certainly well-prepared. Close to 15,000 asurangis and 5,000 samurais were recruited from Takeda clan and their allies, whereas Kenshin had only 10,000 troops with him and fewer muskets than the Takeda. Surely, victory was in his hands, Shingen thought.

Shingen was known as the “Tiger of Kai” and he felt that Kenshin was not a match for him. Yet, people called Kenshin the “Dragon of Echido” for his brave rescue of Lady Sakura at Yozenawa. Today, he would put the Uesungi upstart in his place, but alas the gods are fickle.

During the Battle of Kawanakajima, Kenshin’s formation was highly innovative. The men who fought and were tired would move to the back, and fresh new troops came forward to fight. Suddenly, Shingen’s larger force seem to be at a disadvantage, because they were tired and did not have this formation. Soon, they were worn down and started to retreat slowly.

As the Takeda formation weakened, Kenshin and just 800 of the best Uesungi warriors drove a hard wedge into the Takeda center and broke to Shingen’s position. Kenshin struck Shingen with his sword, but Shingen magnificently blocked it with his iron fan (the ‘tessen’). Then, they fought for three hours no one gaining the advantage until a ceasefire was drawn with Uesungi in slight advantage of the Takedas.

From that day onwards, Shingen praised Kenshin and called him ‘the god of war’, for he hath defeated Hosokawa and Hojo before, but never hath he met his match until Uesungi Kenshin today.

During the second battle of Kawanakajima, a young warrior called Kanseigi came to the Takeda camp to offer his services. He hath served under Sakamoto Hachida, now a general of Takeda, in the Uesungi days, so they accepted him and let him command the rear.

Now, Shingen copied the Uesungi military formation, and the fight proved more even, but just then, Kanseigi torched the Takeda food depot and attacked the Takedas himself. Hachida’s forces rounded him up and killed him, but the advantage was lost. For the first time in his life, Takeda Shingen was forced to retreat, but Kenshin did not pursue him, realising that the superior Takeda numbers still put him at a disadvantage.

Shingen praised Kenshin, “A man whom others die for willingly is not ordinary. Kanseigi must have known that this was a suicide mission.”

But Hachida hath always been envious of Kenshin, whom he felt was unworthy of the Uesungi daimyoate, so he reminded Shingen that he was once Kenshin’s superior.

“That I acknowledge,” replied Shingen, “but are you the better man?”

So the furious Hachida challenged Kenshin to a personal combat, and mind you Hachida was a great swordsman. The Uesungi generals urged Kenshin not to go out and meet him, but Kenshin wouldst not listen.

Hachida’s sword was as fast as a lightning, but yet it seemed that Kenshin was always one step ahead of him, ducking, dodging, and blocking his blows with ease.

Finally, he said, “My turn!” and in one fell swoop took off Hachida’s head with the ease of a teamaster. Kenshin then shouted to the top of his voice, “Lord Takotara! May your spirit rest in peace, for I pledge the traitor’s life to your revenge.”

And so, this was how Kenshin won the second Battle of Kawanakajima, but yet, he could not capture Takeda Shingen. The asurangis were dedicated to Shingen and fought with all their might. Kenshin and Shingen fought three more battles at Kawanakajima, and it was bloody business. More than 5,000 asurangis died in the conflict.

Finally, realising the futility of their fight, Uesungi Kenshin and Takeda Shingen signed a treaty. The two young men had grown into the forefronts of Japanese powerdom, and it seems that all the great lords of the land were alligned with one or the other. Of the great houses, the Hojos and Moris allied themselves with the Uesungi, while the Imagawas allied themselves with the Takedas. The Shogun of Ashikaga also secretly supported the Uesungi clan. The enmity that other clans had towards the Hojo had now died with the aged Hojo Soeun, and his son Chinosuke proved far more moderate and less threatening.

At one time, Hojo Chinosuke sought to defeat Takeda Shingen by cutting the rich supply of rice and salt to Takedas at Kai, but Kenshin honorably sent some of his rice and salt to the Takeda. He wished to defeat Shingen only in true combat, so he said, “A man should crush his enemy with swords and arrows, not through rice and salt.”

His honorable deeds won even greater admiration amongst the warlords, except for the cunning Hojos, who were angered by Kenshin’s deed. As we will see in the next Chapter, the price of honor will be steep indeed.

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