Takeda Shingen's banners carried the words “Steady as a mountain, attack like fire.” Unlike most samurai, Takeda never built a fortress. He preferred the migration of marauding armies, meeting his enemies afield. Shingen was aggressive but cautious. He waged battles but also installed two doors to his lavatory so he could never be cornered by an assassin. He struck the fastidious war-monger’s balance of armies with enough farmers to feed them. Shingen was popular because he taxed the samurai class as well as peasants. He allowed corporal punishment to be bought off. He maintained convenient roads (à la Mussolini and his trains) and mined gold.
Tokugawa Ieyasu, when he rose to power and established his line of Tokugawa Shogun that would last 250 years, mimicked many Takeda policies. But he almost didn’t have to. On a later campaign march south, Takeda Shingen, fat and battle-hardened and in his fifties, came near to killing the 29-year-old Tokugawa at the seaside town of Hamamatsu. Tokugawa met Takeda in a battle outnumbered ten to one. Tokugawa fought bravely but soon fled to his castle, fending off assassins by hand. He lit his retreat with torches, revealing the path to both his soldiers and enemies. Tokugawa then ordered his castle to burst forth with drums. Takeda might have sacked the castle, but the welcoming lights and drums cautioned him. It seemed too inviting. He was used to cagier prey. Takeda broke off attack and backtracked to Kai. Had he not, he would have beheaded Tokugawa and would have overrun the capital Kyoto. At least one historian, Stephen Turnbull, believes Takeda would have made an excellent Shogun. And Tokyo, the world’s biggest city founded by Tokugawa, would not exist. In which case, it’s likely I never would have lived in Yamanashi, or anywhere near Takeda’s power center. I never would have met Yumiko, nor would we have danced. Takeda’s name would ring louder in history, but my life would be dimmer. The arrow of time seems to often create things like marriage or the largest metropolis with irrevocability. But then one fewer drum might have changed the course of Japan’s trajectory. If Shingen’s instincts hadn’t been so well tuned, so well cautioned against the unfamiliar,