To most Japanese, the name Takenaka Shigeharu means little, however the name Takenaka Hanbei is famous! In actual fact, they’re one and the same person. (It was quite normal for a samurai to have a number of different names, they changed on special occasions, such as coming of age, following victory in battle, or from being awarded a new name by their lord.)
Takenaka Hanbei is one of the most famous generals of the Warring States Period, and many fine deeds are attributed to him, however some may have been invented later, just as his name seems to have been. There are no surviving records from his lifetime using the name Hanbei, however it’s the name most remember him by.
Hanbei had a talent for leadership and strategy, he was an expert swordsman and well versed in the military arts. He was a highly regarded and loyal vassal of the Saito Clan of Mino (Gifu) under the famed warlord Saito Dosan’s son, Yoshitatsu.
When Yoshitatsu died, his son, Tatsuoki took over as third clan head at the age of 14. He was too young, too weak and accustomed to an easy life, too corrupt, and for those reasons Oda Nobunaga saw an opportunity to take the prized castle and Mino provinces. Despite the Oda’s advances, they were repelled by the superb tactics of Hanbei, who was credited with having saved the castle and the Saito clan once again.
Despite his martial prowess and strategic abilities, Hambei was said to have been effeminate in manner, which further caused the retainers of Tatsuoki, jealous of Hanbei’s abilities and success in battle, to dislike him. One such samurai even urinated on him as he passed below a watchtower in the castle in an effort to embarrass the strategist. Angered at the insult, and further angered that despite his loyalty and dedication to the Saito, Tastuoki would refrain from seeking justice or apology, sought revenge.
Inabayama Castle, (later to be renamed Gifu Castle) was strategically well positioned, and was reputed to be among the nations most difficult to attack and best defended castles, however Hanbei with just 16 samurai took the castle easily. Entering the castle on the pretext of visiting a sick brother, Hanbei attacked the living quarters of Tasuoki, who, thinking a sizeable enemy force had penetrated the fortress, fled.
Hanbei later handed the castle back to the cowardly Tatsuoki and resigned from the service of the Saito. With Hanbei out of the way, Oda Nobunaga again saw an opportunity and attacked Gifu castle, taking it easily and ousting the Saito clan, proof that without Hanbei’s expert guidance and leadership, the Saito clan and castle were lost.
This act of daring, attacking and taking Gifu Castle, brought him to the attention of Toyotomi Hideyoshi who took the strategist under his wing, using the man’s intelligence and abilities to further himself.
Takanaka Hanbei died at the age of 36. His body was severely weakened, wracked by either tuberculosis, or cancer of the lungs. Either way, he refused to die in bed. Instead he joined Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the Battle of Miki Castle, and died like a samurai, killed in battle.
Despite Takenaka Hanbei’s supposed effeminate nature, he was brave, loyal and a master of his art. He was a samurai amongst samurai.