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Sanada Yukimura

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a portrait of Sanada Yukimura
the Sanada clan kamon
  • Born: 1567
  • Died: 1615
  • Real name: 真田信繁 (Sanada Nobushige)[1]
  • Popular name: 真田幸村 (Sanada Yukimura)
  • Other names: 弁丸 (Ben-maru), 左衛門佐 (Saemon-suke)

Sanada Yukimura is probably the most famous of the Sanada clan of Shinano province. He was the second son of Sanada Masayuki and his wife (Kanshô-in 寒松院); his older brother was Nobuyuki. The Sanada had been loyal vassals of Takeda Shingen, the famed daimyo of Kai province.

In 1585 a quarrel between his father Masayuki and Hôjô Ujimasa over Numata castle came to a head, and Tokugawa Ieyasu made plans to attack the Sanada castle of Ueda. In response, Masayuki made overtures to Uesugi Kagekatsu of Echigo province and sent Yukimura as a hostage, where he was placed under the watchful eye of Uesugi general Suda Mitsuchika. A letter of from him dated 8/29 mentions Yukimura's arrival and says that in return, a force had been sent to aid the Sanada in their struggle against the Tokugawa. Ieyasu's attack on Ueda Castle ended in utter failure. Towards the end of the year Masayuki made overtures to Toyotomi Hideyoshi, guaranteeing a quick end to the quarrel with Ieyasu. Perhaps one result of submitting to Hideyoshi was that Yukimura was able to leave the Uesugi, who had also pledged allegiance to Hideyoshi.

Yukimura served under Hideyoshi and married the daughter of a senior Toyotomi retainer Ôtani Yoshitsugu. In 1594 on the orders of Hideyoshi, Yukimura, along with his father and older brother, was ordered to provide men for the construction of Fushimi castle. Yukimura was a younger son, and he had still younger brothers, but the fact that he was named along with Nobuyuki shows his importance in the clan.

Sanada Yukimura Statue, Ueda city

In 1600, in the prelude to the Battle of Sekigahara, the Sanada clan, now allies of the Tokugawa, began their advance against the Uesugi (who had relocated to Aizu). However, on 7/17 Ishida Mitsunari orchestrated an indictment against Ieyasu on 13 charges that was endorsed by three of the bugyô regents ruling on behalf of the Hideyoshi’s heir, the child Toyotomi Hideyori. With Ieyasu effectively named an enemy of the state, Mitsunari issued an invitation to the Sanada to rethink their current support for Ieyasu and join the Western, anti-Tokugawa coalition. Faced with a complex dilemma on the eve of an all or nothing struggle between Ieyasu and Mitsunari’s coalition, Masayuki complied with Mitsunari’s wishes and immediately withdrew his forces from the field and returned to Ueda, taking Yukimura with him. He left his older son Nobuyuki with Ieyasu, presumably to make sure that the clan would survive—no matter which side, East or West, won. This was not an unusual move in Japan. (Nobuyuki's father-in-law was a close retainer of Ieyasu's and Masayuki may have guessed or known that Yukimura's father-in-law Ôtani Yoshitsugu would support Mitsunari.) When word of Masayuki’s change of allegiance reached Ieyasu, he promptly told Nobuyuki he would be given his father's land (which was of course contingent on the defeat of the Western coalition).

Now with the Masayuki and Yukimura’s position clear, Ieyasu's son Hidetada attacked the father and son at Ueda Castle (Second Siege of Ueda) on his way to Sekigahara to support his father. The siege at Ueda lasted only eight days and ended in failure for Hidetada, whose 38,000-strong army arrived too late to take part in the fighting at Sekigahara and nearly jeopardized his father’s victory.

Having won the battle of Sekigahara, Ieyasu was now master of the realm and both Masayuki and Yukimura found themselves in a precarious position for having opposed him. Luckily, Nobuyuki was able to intercede on behalf of his father and brother, so their lives were spared. However at the end of 1600, Masayuki and Yukimura were exiled to Kudoyama in Mt. Koya in Kii province. Yukimura was then 32 years old (Western-style age).

A number of letters from Yukimura's time in Kudoyama exist, written to his brother or family retainers. Among other things, he said he was learning and enjoying renga, "linked poems" composed in turn in a group, though it was difficult as he had started late. His father Masayuki died in Kudoyama in 1611.

A life of leisure in exile didn’t suit Yukimura very well. In 1614 Toyotomi Hideyori started gathering ronin to support him against the upcoming attack that Ieyasu was planning, and Yukimura responded. He slipped out of Kudoyama in the tenth month and made his way to Ôsaka Castle, where he became one of Hideyori’s top commanders. It is here at Osaka castle that Yukimura’s exploits earned him a place in Japanese history as one of the most daring and endearing figures of the late-Sengoku Period.

Sanada Yukimura and the Siege of Osaka Castle

The Winter Siege (1614)

Not unlike the debacle that culminated in their defeat at Sekigahara fourteen years earlier, the Toyotomi forces dawdled over establishing a solid command structure and strategy in the autumn of 1614. Rather than take the fight to the Tokugawa and intercept them along their journey to Osaka, Hideyori decided to stay put inside the protective confines of the might citadel of Osaka castle. This put the Toyotomi on the defensive and Yukimura went to work on devising a defensive strategy that utilized his talents for withstanding sieges from a superior force—not unlike he had done together with his father previously at Ueda castle. And the Tokugawa force was indeed numerically superior—having about 194,000 troops to the estimated 113,000 samurai and ronin on the Toyotomi side.

Amply guarded by rivers and canals to the north, east and west, Osaka castle was most vulnerable to attack from the south. Realizing this, the Toyotomi forces went to work on digging a dry moat that was fortified with wooden palisades. On the inner-side, a stone and earthen embankment was constructed with strong, defensive positions at the eastern and western ends to protect the roads leading into the castle. At the eastern end, nearly a kilometer south of the castle’s Tamatsukuriguchi entrance, a half-moon shaped embankment strengthened with wooden walls was built. It was from this position that Yukimura would valiantly command 5,000 troops against the attacking Tokugawa forces, earning the barbican the name "Sanada-maru" (the present Sanada-yama Park).

By the middle of the 11th month 1614, the Tokugawa forces began to tighten the noose around Osaka castle. As pointed out earlier, the castle’s southern flank was its weakest point and hence the Tokugawa launched an all-out assault on the Sanada-maru on the fourth day of the twelfth month, 1614 (January 3, 1615). The first assault wave was led by Maeda Toshitsune (1593-1658) commanding 12,000 troops who retreated after scores were cut down in a deadly crossfire of arquebus fire as they rushed for the walls of Sanada-maru. A second wave of 10,000 under the command of Ieyasu’s grandson, Matsudaira Tadanao (1595-1650) and an additional 10,000 troops adorning the famous red-lacquered armor of the Ii clan, led by Ii Naotaka (1590-1659) were greeted by a hail of hot lead from the defenders of Sanada-maru. However, the combined Matsudaira-Ii force managed to withstand the constant barrage of gunfire long enough to breach the castle’s Hachomeguchi gate where they were greeted by 8,000 Toyotomi troops led by Kimura Shigenari (1593-1615). Pressed by Kimura’s forces in front of them and facing deadly fire on their right flank from Sanada’s troops, the Matsudaira-Ii force was soon in full-retreat back to their lines. Kimura’s troops gave chase, and proceeded to rout an additional 700 Tokugawa forces led by Matsukura Shigemasa (1574-1630) and Terazawa Hirotaka (1563-1633) along the way.

The next day, on the fifth day of the twelfth month (January 4), the Tokugawa resumed their attack on Sanada-maru and a force of 4,000 under Tôdô Takatora (1556-1630) made a dash for the Tanimachiguchi gate (谷町口門), one gate down to the west from the Hachomeguchi gate. Tôdô briefly managed to breach the castle’s wall, but came under a fierce counterattack by 5,000 troops under Chôsokabe Morichika (1575-1615), driving the Tokugawa back, yet again.

Due to the resilient defense of the Sanada-maru, it became apparent to the Tokugawa that Osaka castle could not be taken by throwing wave after wave of ground troops at the castle. A change in tactics was needed, and Ieyasu chose to bring artillery to bear on Osaka castle. While the artillery barrage that began on the 9th of the 12th month (January 8) did not have an overwhelming destructive impact, it did have the desired psychological effect. Unable to tolerate the bombardment, Hideyori’s mother, Yodo-gimi, soon began to pressure her son to reach a peace agreement with Ieyasu. Proving that the walls of Osaka castle were stronger than his will, Hideyori eventually bowed to his mother’s wishes and began negotiating a settlement 10 days after the bombardment started. On the 22nd of the twelfth month (January 21) the winter siege of Osaka officially ended.

The Summer Siege (1615)

Without even giving the ink on the peace agreement to dry, Shôgun Tokugawa Hidetada, under orders from his father, Ieyasu, began demolishing the outer defenses of Osaka castle. Hideyori protested, but his pleas were futile. When he attempted to rebuild his moats and walls, Ieyasu had the pretext he needed to finish off the Toyotomi once and for all. Claiming that Hideyori was reneging on the peace plan by refortifying Osaka castle and again raising a rônin army, the Tokugawa reassembled their forces in Kyoto and prepared to march once again on Osaka.

Knowing that it was futile to stay behind the walls of the weakened citadel to wait for the Tokugawa troops to show up, the Toyotomi forces decided to go on the offensive. The first notable clash of the summer siege occurred on the 27th of the 4th month (May 24) at Kashii, where 5,000 Tokugawa forces under Asano Nagaakira (1586-1632) defeated the 3,000 men under Ono Harufusa as they marched toward the pro-Tokugawa stronghold of Wakayama castle (和歌山).

The next major clash occurred in the fog on the early morning of the 6th day of the fifth month (June 2) at Dômyô-ji (道明寺) near Japan’s imperial kofun tombs. Fighting broke out as forces under Yukimura and the Tokugawa jostled for high ground on the slope of Komatsuyama (小松山). Here, Yukimura’s troops engaged the 10,000 men under the command of the famed One-Eyed-Dragon of Sendai, Date Masamune (1567-1636) near Hachiman shrine in Konda village (誉田八幡神社). Yukimura had only 3,000 troops under his personal command and heavy casualties inflicted on the other Toyotomi forces were taking its toll. As dusk neared, Sanada realized further fighting was useless and executed an orderly withdrawal back to Osaka castle. Ieyasu’s sixth son, Tokugawa Tadateru, was ordered to give chase to Yukimura’s retreating forces. But his 9,000 troops were also exhausted from a brisk march to reinforce the Tokugawa positions at Dômyô-ji and he refused, allowing the famed general to get away to fight yet one more day.

And Yukimura and his troops definitely had enough fight in them for one more dramatic and ferocious fight—the battle of Tennô-ji (天王寺), which was fought on the 7th of the 5th month (June 3). After hurrying back to Osaka castle, Yukimura found the massive Tokugawa force of nearly 150,000 moving into positions in order to make their final assault on the castle. As the Tokugawa units were still moving into formation, the Toyotomi forces launched a last ditch offensive with their approximate 54,000 to 60,000 troops that hoped to take the still loose Tokugawa formations off-guard. As the vanguard of the Tokugawa left flank under Matsudaira Tadanao marched to their positions, Yukimura’s troops charged down from Chausuyama (茶臼山) and fought with desperate abandon together with Mori Katsunaga's contingent. As Matsudaira’s line began to crumble, Ieyasu rushed his personal body of troops up to support Matsudaira and Yukimura saw his chance to smash through the center. If he could keep the center of the Tokugawa forces tied up long enough for Hideyori to sally out of the castle and lead a general charge on the exposed Tokugawa flank, the Toyotomi forces might have a chance at victory—or so he hoped. Thus, at this moment, Yukimura dispatched his son, Sanada Daisuke back to the castle to urge Hideyori to seize the moment and sally forward. But Hideyori was too late. As the fighting raged around him, the exhausted Yukimura collapsed on a camp stool. Nishio Nizaemon, a Tokugawa samurai, recognized Yukimura and charged forward, issuing a challenge. Unable to muster the strength to fight, Yukimura acknowledged who he was and took off his helmet. Seconds later, his life came to an abrupt end.

Yukimura’s death occurred in plain view of many of his men. As news of his death spread among his troops, their attack began to wane. They too, were exhausted from the previous day’s fighting at Dômyô-ji and the rapid pace of their retreat back to Osaka. By the time Hideyori rode out, the banners of Tokugawa troops were already fluttering from Osaka castle’s outer moat and the Sakura gate.

The next day, Osaka castle was in flames and Hideyori and Yodo-gimi committed suicide. Ieyasu’s destruction of the Toyotomi and all viable threats to his dynasty was now complete, rushing in the long era of Pax Tokugawa that would last until 1868.

Notes

  1. Sanada Yukimura's real name was Sanada Nobushige. There is no evidence that he ever used the name Yukimura, but the name is so well known that even books that state this call him Yukimura, and this article follows suit.

References

  • Bryant, Anthony J. Sekigahara 1600, Osprey Publishing Ltd., 1995.
  • Sanada Family Materials
  • Sengoku Biographical Dictionary (Samurai-archives.com) FWSeal & CEWest, 2005
  • Turnbull, Stephen. Osaka 1615, Osprey Publishing Ltd., 2006.
  • Shin Rekishi Gunzo Series No. 2: Sanada Yukimura to Osaka no Jin, Gakken, 2006.
  • Shin Rekishi Gunzo Series No. 10: Sanada San Dai, Gakken, 2007.
  • Bessa Rekishi Dokuhon Sanada San Dai, Jinbutsu, 2007.
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