Honda Tadakatsu (本多忠勝)

Tadakatsu HONDA was a busho (Japanese military commander) and daimyo (Japanese feudal lord) who lived from the Azuchi-Momoyama period to the early Edo period. He was a vassal of the Tokugawa clan. He was the first lord of the Otaki Domain in Kazusa Province and the first lord of the Kuwana Domain in Ise Province. He was the first head of the Honda family of Tadakatsu lineage.


Tadakatsu was a Honda clan member as the oldest Anjo fudai (a fudai daimyo who had been serving Ieyasu since he was in Anjo) for the Anjo-Matsudaira family (the head family of the Tokugawa), born the first son of Tadataka HONDA in Kuramae, Mikawa Province (present Okazaki City, Aichi Prefecture) in 1548. He served for Ieyasu TOKUGAWA from a young age, and fought for the first time at the Otaka-jo Hyoro-ire (bringing of army provisions into Otaka-jo Castle), as a preliminary skirmish of the Battle of Okehazama in 1560. He celebrated his attainment of manhood at the same time.

At the Mikawa Ikko Ikki (an uprising of Ikko sect followers in Mikawa Province) in 1563, he achieved military exploits devoting himself to Ieyasu as an enemy to most of the Honda families. In 1566 at the age of 19, he was selected as a Hatamoto sakiteyaku (a direct retainer of the shogun, who led the way) along with other men of his age, such as Yasumasa SAKAKIBARA, Masashige HONDA and Hidetsuna TSUZUKI, and he was given 50 Yoriki (police sergeants). Afterwards, Tadakatsu always lived near Ieyasu's living castle and performed well as a commander of the hatamoto troop.

Tadakatsu also participated in the Battle of Anegawa in 1570 and took charge of the Dengun (the rear troop) at the Battle of Hitokotozaka as a preliminary skirmish of the Battle of Futamata-jo Castle in 1572.
There is a famous story about Sakon KOSUGI from the Takeda clan praising Tadakatsu with a rakusho (anonymous letter) of kyoka (comic and satirical poem) where he said 'Ieyasu has two things too good for him: Kara no kashira (the Chinese heads) and Heihachi HONDA' ('Kara no kashira' refers to helmets with tail hair of Yak which Ieyasu gathered for enjoyment.)
Tadakatsu fought in the Battle of Mikatagahara in December (old calender). He also participated in the Battle of Nagashino in 1575.

When the Honnoji Incident occurred in 1582, Ieyasu was staying in Sakai City with a few of his followers, including Tadakatsu. When Ieyasu lost his calm and tried to go to Kyoto to follow Nobunaga, it is said that Tadakatsu was the one who warned, "Our enemies are in Honnoji, TOKUGAWA Ieyasu."

Tadakatsu's symbol was a Kazuno wakidate kabuto (a helmet with an ornament in the shape of deer horns) (It still exists as an Important Cultural Property), and Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI praised him as the best warrior in Togoku (the eastern part of Japan, particularly Kanto region) for his performance at the Battle of Komaki and Nagakute in 1584. When the Tokugawa clan was affiliated with the Toyotomi clan, he was conferred Jugoinoge (Junior Fifth Rank, Lower Grade) and appointed to work at the Ministry of Central Affairs. When Ieyasu was transferred to the Kanto region in 1590, Tadakatsu was given 100,000 koku, the second biggest crop yield among the vassals (Naomasa II had the biggest as 110,000 koku), along with Yasumasa SAKAKIBARA from Otaki, Kazusa Province (Otaki Town, Isumi County, Chiba Prefecture).
That they were sent so far from Edo was due to Ieyasu's deployment policy to 'deploy fudai no sho (military commanders that were hereditary vassals to the Tokugawa family) on the border where enemies would make their attack.'
Yasumasa was to defend against Sanada and Uesugi to the north and Tadakatsu was to defend against the Satomi clan in the Awa Province.

At the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, Tadakatsu was part of Ieyasu's main troop and engaged in an operation to send letters to territorial lords to have them take sides with the Eastern Army. Due to his achievements, he was transferred to Kuwana Domain, Ise Province (present Kuwana City, Mie Prefecture) with 100,000 koku (another theory holds that it was 150,000 koku) in 1601, and the former territory in Otaki was given to his second son Tadatomo HONDA with 50,000 koku as a branch family.

Due to the end of the wars and those from the younger generation who were good at civil administration (civilian party), such as Masazumi HONDA, gaining power as close advisors to Ieyasu and Hidetada TOKUGAWA, military exploit party members such as Tadakatsu were distanced from the center of the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) and it is said that he was unhappy in his later years.

In July, 1609, Tadakatsu retired after transferring the family headship to his legitimate son Tadamasa HONDA. He died in Kuwana on December 3, 1610. He was 63 years old.


The descendants of Tadakatsu repeatedly changed their territory, settling in Okazaki Domain, Mikawa Province with 50,000 koku via Himeji and other domains. After the death of Tadakatsu, however, it is said that the Honda clan was rarely given important posts by the bakufu except for his sons Tadamasa HONDA and Tadatomo HONDA. However, it is also believed that this was due to successive lords of the Honda family repeatedly dying young or misconducting themselves.

Family line of heroes

One of Tadakatsu's uncles was Ujiaki UEMURA, famous for his heroic acts among the Tokugawa vassals, and another of his uncles was Tadazane HONDA, a master of spears.

Vassals and Chief retainers

Nobuteru ODA (Heiemon Tadazane NAKANE) was a half brother of Nobunaga ODA.

After Ieyasu moved to the Kanto region, Nobuteru was assigned to serve as Tsukegaro (a chief retainer assigned directly by the shogun) for Tadakatsu HONDA, who became a daimyo and the lord of Otaki, Kazusa Province with 100.000 koku around 1591. His descendants fulfilled their duties as chief retainers for the Honda family.

Hidetsuna TSUZUKI

Hidetsuna was the first head of the Tsukushi clan as the Hitto karo (the head of chief retainers) for the Honda family for generations.

Although he was originally a vassal of the Imagawa family, he gained the position due to Ieyasu TOKUGAWA's invasion of Enshu started at the end of 1568. The following year of 1569, he was given a letter to assure honryo-ando (acknowledgment for an inherited estate) by Ieyasu. He fought valiantly when he joined Tadakatsu's yoriki.

Katsutada KAJI

Along with the Tsuzuki clan, the Kaji clan supported the Honda family as chief retainers for generations.

Katsutada was a great grandson of Chikatomo, the second son of Mitsuchika of the Nomi Matsudaira family as one of the Matsudaira families.

He originally served as tsukaiban (a person responsible for order and patrol on the battlefield) for Ieyasu, and in 1566 was integrated into the Honda troop as a yoriki at the same time Tadakatsu was appointed as Hatamoto sakiteyaku.

He took part in many battles from that point on as a key figure of the Tadakatsu troop.

There remains an anecdote about Katsutada at the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 where he offered his horse to Tadakatsu, who had lost his favorite horse Mikuniguro to an arrow shot by an enemy soldier, then continued to fight hard on foot, saving Tadakatsu from a tight situation.

After the Battle of Sekigahara, Katsutada entered the Kuwana-jo Castle as an advance party in 1601 when Tadakatsu changed the territory to Kuwana.

Masamitsu KAWAI

Masamitsu was one of Tadakatsu's 50 yoriki, selected as a Hatamoto sakiteyaku. When Tadakatsu became a daimyo, he stayed to serve him as a chief retainer. Only from the kogi (shogunate) did he receive 5,000 koku (including the reward for yoriki, 2,500 koku) as a chigyo (fief). His own younger brother Masakazu succeeded his common name Matagoro and the family estate.

Personal profile and anecdotes

He was counted among the Tokugawa shitenno (the 4 great generals serving Tokugawa), Tokugawa juroku shinsho (the 16 great protective deities for Tokugawa) and Tokugawa sanketsu (the top 3 vassals of Tokugawa), and he is still honored as a meritorious vassal of Ieyasu today.

Although he took part in 57 battles throughout his life, it is said that he survived every battle without a scratch. He preferred light equipment that let him move easily. Tadakatsu contrasted himself with Naomasa II, criticizing his heavy armor and how he was covered with wounds.

At the Battle of Komaki and Nagakute when Tadakatsu led a mere 500 soldiers to confront a force of 80,000 led by Hideyoshi, vassals Kiyomasa KATO and Masanori FUKUSHIMA advised killing Tadakatsu. Hideyoshi, however, who had heard about Tadakatsu's gallantry at the Ane-gawa River, had tears in his eyes when he forbade the killing of Tadakatsu.
Hideyoshi said to his men, 'He is purposely showing his bravery by leading an outnumbered troop against our large force, probably with the intention of putting distance between us and Ieyasu's army by holding our troop for a while.'
'When we destroy the Tokugawa family, we should take him alive to make him my kenin (retainer).'

After Hideyoshi and Ieyasu reconciled, Hideyoshi called upon Tadakatsu and asked, 'Which is more important to you, the gratitude for Hideyoshi or that for Ieyasu?' and Tadakatsu answered, 'Although the gratitude for you is deeper than the sea, Ieyasu is the lord of hereditary succession and it is difficult to overcome the passage of time.'

His exceptional heroic acts were praised by Nobunaga ODA as 'a hero with both bravery and intelligence.'
Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI cited him as a brave general, saying, 'There is a peerless general named Tadakatsu HONDA in the east, and another peerless general named Muneshige TACHIBANA in the west.'

There are statues of Tadakatsu inside Okazaki-jo Castle in Okazaki City, Aichi Prefecture, and in Kyuka Park in the remains of Kuwana-jo Castle in Kuwana City, Mie Prefecture.

Tadakatsu was a great commander, not only brave but also good at strategies, and he tried to break up the busho of the Western Army by issuing countless numbers of written oath with Naomasa II at the Battle of Sekigahara. He also displayed abilities as a politician, and it is said that he tried especially hard to seize the hearts of the public and was adored by the people of the domain.

When the Western Army lost at Sekigahara, he and Nobuyuki SANADA, his daughter's husband, begged for the lives of Masayuki SANADA and his son Nobushige SANADA, who had taken sides with the Western Army. Ieyasu had suffered terribly due to these two men, however, and firmly refused. Hidetada strongly insisted on the death penalty as well since he was blamed on ending up offending Ieyasu by arriving late to Sekigahara after being stranded in Ueda-jo Castle by Masayuki. Tadakatsu responded by defiantly declaring, 'If you do not grant this request then I will fight you,' stunning Ieyasu. Yielding to Tadakatsu's appeal in the end, the father and son only received a punishment of being confined in Kudoyama at the foot of Mt. Koya in Kii Province, and the territory of the Ueda Domain in Shinano Province was given to Nobuyuki.

In his later years, Tadakatsu was carving his name on his possessions using a short sword. He accidentally slid his hand on the blade, making a small cut on his finger. He lamented, 'My life must be coming to its end,' and did in fact die a few days later. This was said to be his one and only injury in his life.

When he went into battle, it is said that he usually had his favorite spear Tonbokiri, his Kazuno wakidate kabuto (a helmet with an ornament in the shape of deer horns), and a big juzu (rosary) on his shoulder. It is said that the big juzu was meant to mourn for the enemies he himself had killed.

Tonbokiri spear (literally "dragonfly cutter")
Although the Tonbokiri was originally owned by the Hattori clan, it was later inherited by Tadakatsu HONDA.
The nicknamed Tonbokiri was the spear with which Tadakatsu made many achievements, and its success made this spear one of 'the best three spears in Japan.'
The name came from an anecdote that a dragonfly perched on its tip and was split in two. It was a long spear that had a blade with a length of 43.8 cm in the shape of a bamboo leaf and had an inscription on the shaft that read, "Made by FUJIWARA no Masazane," allegedly a Muramasa group member.
It is said that the hilt was about 6 m long (A regular long spear is 4.5 m.)
However, in his later years as his physical strength began to decline, he shortened the hilt of the spear, saying 'The best spear is the one that fits your strength.'
A replica of the spear can be seen at Okazaki-jo Castle.

[Original Japanese]