Tōdō Takatora

Tōdō Takatora

A samurai who rose from humble beginnings to become a lord and castle builder

place Area: Kora access_time Published: 2020.03.19

Name in Japanese: 藤堂高虎
Pronunciation: tōdō takatora

The village of Tōdō in Inukami-gun, Ōmi, sits among the rice fields and irrigation channels on the plain east of Lake Biwa. There are many beautiful old houses, interspersed with Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. In a park on the edge of the village stands a statue of a samurai on a horse. From the sides of his helmet project long … ears? Whatever they are, they must have been inconvenient. This samurai is Tōdō Takatora, famous son of this village, who from a humble beginning went on to build Japan’s finest castles.

Takatora was born in 1556 in Tōdō Village as the second son of Tōdō Torataka. The Tōdō family had been minor rural lords for generations, but during the Warring States period, they had fallen to the rank of peasants. Takatora’s childhood name was Yokichi. He was a big lad, far bigger than the norm at the time, and as an adult he measured about 1.9 m tall.

Takatora began his career as a lowly foot soldier to the lord of Ōmi Province, Azai Nagamasa, the first of the eight lords that he would eventually serve. He participated in the first of his many battles in 1570. The Azai clan was destroyed by Oda Nobunaga in the Battle of Odani Castle in 1573. He then served as vassal to two old retainers of the Azai in succession. He eventually left Ōmi and served under Nobunaga’s nephew, Oda Nobuzumi. He was so indigent that he was obliged to dash out of eateries without paying, and nobody would have dared to stop him. His battle flag shows a row of three white dots representing mochi rice cakes, one of the staple foods of hungry samurai.

In 1576, he served Hashiba Hidenaga, brother of Hashiba Hideyoshi, a senior vassal of Nobunaga, and was granted a smallholding of land. In 1581, for his contribution to the defeat of a local clan in Tajima Province, his holding was increased tenfold and he was made commander of a unit of musketeers. Under Hidenaga, he fought in the Chugoku region and took part in the Battle of Shizugatake, where he fired on the forces of Sakuma Morimasa and put them to flight. For this significant achievement, he received further land.

He served in the conquest of Kishū in 1585 and defeated Yukawa Naoharu. After the war, he was given more land in Kii Province, and was appointed commissioner for the construction of Saruokayama Castle and Wakayama Castle. These were Takatora’s first castles. He made a significant contribution in the attack on Shikoku in the same year, and was awarded further land by Hideyoshi, becoming a feudal lord in his own right.

Takatora took part in the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 on the winning side and served with distinction in the first and second invasions of Korea. Each time, he was rewarded with more land. He was given holdings in Uwajima and Imabari in Shikoku where he built castles.

In addition to these castles, he was involved in the construction of Sasayama Castle, Tsu Castle, Iga Ueno Castle, Zeze Castle, Nijō Castle, and Ieyasu’s great castle in Edo. Takatora’s castles are characterized by high stone walls and major moats. During the second invasion of Korea, he supervised the construction of Suncheon Castle. The castle was attacked from land and sea by the Ming and Korean forces, but the defenders successfully rebuffed the attackers, demonstrating the robustness of Takatora’s castle in combat.

He suffered from eye disease from around 1623 and finally lost his eyesight in 1630. He died on October 5 of the same year at the Tōdō clan residence in Edo. He was 75 years old. The cause of death is unknown, but a medical record suggested that he died from a sore throat due getting soaked on a construction project. Takatora’s whole body was a mess of bullet and spear wounds. He was missing the third and little finger of his right hand, and part of the middle finger of his left hand. His corpse was prepared for burial by a young attendant who grew up in the relative peace of early Edo. He was appalled at the condition of these remains from the Warring States. Takatora’s grave is at Kanshō-in Temple in Tōkyō.