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Sanada Masayuki
Sanada Masayuki
Lord of Ueda

In office
Preceded by Sanada Yukitaka
Succeeded by Sanada Nobuyuki
Personal details
Born 1547
Died July 13, 1611 (aged 63/64)
Nationality Japanese

Sanada Masayuki (真田 昌幸?, 1547 – July 13, 1611) was a Japanese Sengoku period lord and daimyo. He was descended from the Sanada clan, a regional house of Shinano province, which became vassals of the Takeda clan of Kai province.

Along with his father and brothers, Masayuki served the Takeda clan during its heyday, when it was led by Takeda Shingen. After its downfall, Masayuki took the lead of his family and, despite little power, he managed to establish himself as an independent daimyo under the Toyotomi regime through clever political maneuvers amidst the neighboring Tokugawa, Hojō and Uesugi clans.

Known for having defeated the powerful Tokugawa army in the Siege of Ueda on two separate occasions, Masayuki was considered one of the greatest military strategists of his era in posterity. His popularity rose further from depictions in novels and other forms of media in recent times.


As a Takeda retainer

He was born as the third son of Sanada Yukitaka in 1547. His childhood name was Gengorō (源五郎).

In 1553, as a 7-year-old, he was sent to the Takeda clan's headquarters in Kai as a hostage. There he becomes part of the Okukinjūshū (奥近習衆), a group of six young servants close to Takeda Shingen. According to the Kōyō Gunkan, Shingen favoured him and considered him to be "his own eyes", as he soon recognized that Masayuki's talents rivaled those of his father Yukitaka.

In 1558, he inherits the Mutō family, a branch of Ōi clan, of which Shingen's mother descends from, and adopts the name Mutō Kihei (武藤喜兵衛).

Towards 1564, he gets married to Yamanote-dono, a daughter of Uda Yoritada, who was a local lord of Tōtōmi Province. Later she gives birth to his two sons Nobuyuki and Yukimura.

During this period, he participates in many battles under the Takeda clan, including the Fourth Battle of Kawanakajima (1561) and the Battle of Mimasetōge (1569). Also most importantly, from 1572 onwards, he joins Shingen in his military campaign against the Oda and Tokugawa clans and takes part in the Battle of Mikatagahara (1573). After Shingen's death in 1573, he continues to serve the heir Takeda Katsuyori.

In 1574, his father Yukitaka passes away. At this point, his eldest brother Sanada Nobutsuna had already succeeded his father as the head of the Sanada clan. However, during the Battle of Nagashino (1575) both his elder brothers, Nobutsuna and Masateru, were killed, so he changed his name back to Sanada and claimed his inheritance.

In 1579, a year after Uesugi Kenshin's death, an alliance between the Takeda and Uesugi clans is estabilished. As the Uesugi clan consents to Takeda's advances into eastern parts of Kōzuke province, which was a Hojō domain at the time, in 1580 Masayuki attacks and seizes Numata Castle, putting it under Takeda clan's control.

Also in 1580, he gets appointed to the title of Awa-no-kami (従五位下・安房守).

In 1581, he was ordered by Takeda Katsuyori to be a supervisor of the construction of the new Shinpu Castle at Nirasaki. In the same year, Numata Kageyoshi, former lord of Numata Castle, attempted to retake his old fief, but Masayuki schemed to assassinate him and thwarted his plans.

In April 1582, Oda and Tokugawa allied forces start a full-blown invasion of the Takeda territory. It is said that Masayuki had intended to shelter Katsuyori and advised him to abandon Kai province and flee towards Sanada's domain in Kōzuke. Instead, Katsuyori decided to aim for Oyamada Nobushige's Iwadono Castle, but got betrayed by him and ultimately died at Tenmokuzan. After the fall of the Takeda clan, Masayuki yielded to Oda Nobunaga and retained his domain. He was put under the orders of one of Nobunaga's generals, Takigawa Kazumasu.

Tenshō-Jingo Conflict and independence under Toyotomi regime

However, Nobunaga died within a year at the Incident at Honnō-ji, in June 1582. Upon Nobunaga's death, Oda clan's grasp over former Takeda territories weakens, and the Tokugawa, Hōjō and Uesugi clans all start to contest this vacuum of power in Shinano, Kōzuke and Kai provinces. This is called the Tenshō-Jingo Conflict.

As Takigawa Kazumasu loses against Hōjō clan at the Battle of Kannagawa, Masayuki declares his allegiance to Hōjō Ujinao and acts as the vanguard of Hōjō invading army. At one point, the Hōjō clan had come close to controlling most of Shinano province, but as local lords like Kiso Yoshimasa and Masayuki himself defected to the Tokugawa side, Ujinao saw his position in the conflict weaken and decided for a peace treaty and alliance with the Tokugawa clan, which agreed.

In this treaty, among other terms, Tokugawa Ieyasu agrees to transfer Numata Castle and its adjacent lands in Kōzuke province to the Hōjō clan. Masayuki however, resists having to hand over Numata Castle, which he had conquered with his own efforts years before. Ultimately, he once more switches his allegiance and becomes a vassal of Uesugi Kagekatsu. With this move, he effectively joins Hashiba Hideyoshi's side, which opposes the Tokugawa-Hōjō alliance.

In 1583, Masayuki starts the construction of the Ueda Castle and the surrounding town. It became the headquarters of the Sanada clan for the following years.

In 1585, Tokugawa forces invade Sanada clan's territory in northern Shinano province with 7,000 men and lay siege to Ueda Castle, which was defended by only 1,200 soldiers. However, Masayuki was able to inflict 1,300 casualties on Tokugawa's side and won an overwhelming victory. This was the First Battle of Ueda Castle, a victory that earned Masayuki national prominence. Following this, Masayuki went from being just a former Takeda retainer to be recognized as an independent daimyo.

In 1589, Sanada retainers had disputes with the Hōjō clan, which eventually led to the fall of the Hōjō clan by Toyotomi Hideyoshi's invading armies.

After Hideyoshi's death, in 1600, Masayuki joined Ishida Mitsunari's side during the Battle of Sekigahara. Masayuki sent his eldest son, Nobuyuki, to the eastern side, while Masayuki and his younger son, Yukimura, fought on the western side, a move that ensured the Sanada clan's survival. Fortifying Ueda Castle, Masayuki fought against Tokugawa Hidetada's 38,000 men with only 2,000 soldiers. This was the Second Battle of Ueda Castle, and, whilst it was not exactly a victory, Masayuki was able to deliver a heavy blow to Hidetada and delay his forces for long enough that they were unable to show up at the main battlefield on time.

However, the western side, led by Ishida Mitsunari, lost the main battle, and the victorious Tokugawa Ieyasu was able to redistribute fiefs at will. Masayuki and Yukimura were initially going to be executed, but, given Nobuyuki's participation in the eastern army, they were instead exiled to Kudoyama in Kii province. The Sanada clan was inherited by Sanada Nobuyuki.

Sanada Masayuki died in Kudoyama in 1611.


Even though Masayuki was never able to expand his territories as well as other daimyo, he is nevertheless often considered a talented daimyo, doomed by misfortune and the inconvenient terrains which surrounded his home domain. Toyotomi Hideyoshi had called Masayuki a person whose inside did not match his outside, that his allegiance was fickle and not to be trusted. Nevertheless, it was exactly his drifting alliances that helped the Sanada clan survive the onslaught of hostile clans, and, since the Edo period, he has been more extolled than vilified.

In popular culture

See People of the Sengoku period in popular culture.

See also


  • Sansom, George (1961). "A History of Japan: 1334–1615." Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. p. 325.
  • Turnbull, Stephen (1998). 'The Samurai Sourcebook'. London: Cassell & Co. p. 76.
Preceded by
Lord of Ueda
Succeeded by
Sanada Nobuyuki

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