Sakai Tadatsugu (酒井忠次)

Tadatsugu SAKAI was a Japanese military commander in Mikawa Province who was active from the Sengoku period (Japan) to the Azuchi-Momoyama period. He was a vassal of the Tokugawa Clan, and the first head of the Sakai family in the position of Saemon no jo (third-ranked officer of the Left Division of the Outer Palace Guards) of the Sakai Clan. The Sakai Clan is the longest-serving chief vassal along with the Ishikawa Clan.


Tadatsugu SAKAI was born in Ida Castle in Mikawa Province in 1527 as a child of Tadachika SAKAI, a hereditary vassal of the Matsudaira Clan, which was the predecessor of the Tokugawa Clan.

Tadatsugu first served Hirotada MATSUDAIRA, the father of Ieyasu TOKUGAWA, and he used the name of Kogoro SAKAI and later Saemon no jo. Later Tadatsugu married Princess Usui as his lawful wife, who was a daughter of Kiyoyasu MATSUDAIRA, the grandfather of Ieyasu, and his wife Keyoin, and who was Hirotada's half-sister by a different mother. Princess Usui's mother Otomi was originally a wife of Tadamasa MIZUNO and the biological mother of Ieyasu's mother Odai no kata, and therefore Tadatsugu was the husband of a sister of both of Ieyasu's parents and hence Ieyasu's uncle-in-law. However, Princess Usui got married when she was already widowed by the loss of her former husband Masatada MATSUDAIRA of the Nagasawa Matsudaira family after the Battle of Okehazama, and Tadatsugu was already well over 30 then. It is said that after Hirotada's death, Tadatsugu served young Ieyasu and led a hostage life in Sunpu. That seems to be the reason for his late marriage. Tadatsugu was blessed with children by his wife, including Ietsugu SAKAI and Yasutoshi HONDA.

The first half of his life

When Ieyasu TOKUGAWA headed for Sunpu as a hostage to Yoshimoto IMAGAWA, Tadatsugu accompanied Ieyasu as the oldest member of the vassals who were following Ieyasu.

After the Battle of Okehazama in May 1560, Tadatsugu was singled out as a senior retainer by Ieyasu who became independent of the Imagawa Clan. In the Mikawa Ikko Ikki uprising (the uprising of the Ikko Sect followers in Mikawa Province) of 1563, Tadatsugu faithfully followed Ieyasu while many of the Sakai Clan contributed to the uprising. In 1564, Tadatsugu achieved distinguished war services by completing the exclusion of the Imagawa Clan from Mikawa Province and attacking Yoshida Castle (in Mikawa Province) (Toyohashi City, Aichi Prefecture) and was immediately selected as the lord of Yoshida Castle. After that, Tadatsugu was given the role of "the leader of eastern Mikawa" to control lords from the Matsudaira family in the eastern part of Mikawa Province.

Tadatsugu joined Ieyasu's troops in major battles including the Battle of Anegawa in 1570, the Battle of Mikatagahara in 1572, the Battle of Nagashino in 1575 and the Battle of Komaki-Nagakute in 1584 and performed distinguished services in these battles. Particularly famous is an anecdote about his beating a drum in Hamamatsu Castle to raise the morale of his troops in the Battle of Mikatagahara and an anecdote about his successful surprise attack on Tobigasuyama fortress in the Battle of Nagashino, for which Nobunaga ODA praised him.

The second half of his life

Tadatsugu enjoyed great confidence of Ieyasu, and when he was inquired by Nobunaga ODA about Nobuyasu MATSUDAIRA, a legitimate child of Ieyasu, in 1579, Tadatsugu was designated as an envoy for defense and went to Azuchi Castle together with Tadayo OKUBO, but he was not able to defend Nobuyasu well enough and thus failed to prevent the order for Nobuyasu's seppuku (suicide by disembowelment) from being given (though there is a different view on the claim that the incident of Nobuyasu's seppuku was under the order of Nobunaga). Even after Ieyasu became subordinate to the Toyotomi Clan, Tadatsugu was favorably treated by Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI as the number-one chief vassal of Ieyasu, and in 1586, he was granted the rank of and appointed to the office of Jushiinoge (junior fourth rank, lower grade) Saemon no jo, which was the highest rank in the family.

In 1588, Tadatsugu retired, handing over the head of the family to his eldest son, Ietsugu SAKAI. He passed away in Kyoto on October 28, 1596. His age at death was 70. His descendants played important roles as prominent figures among hereditary vassals for generations and his direct descendant became an outstanding wealthy hereditary vassal of the Dewa Shonai Clan with 140,000 koku (increased to 170,000 koku at the end of Edo period).

Personality and anecdotes

The weapon that Tadatsugu SAKAI would regularly use was a spear called 'Kametoshi yari' (crock-piercing spear). The name comes from an anecdote about the spear being sharp enough to penetrate an crock and his enemy altogether.

Tadatsugu was good at a dance called Ebisukui (shrimp scooping) and it is said that despite his position of senior vassal, Tadatsugu showed his dance to warlords, lifting their spirits.

Later, Tadatsugu was ranked first on the list of Tokugawa-shitenno (four generals serving Ieyasu TOGUGAWA) and Tokugawa-jurokushinsho (16 protective deities serving Ieyasu TOKUGAWA) and was publicly honored as a meritorious vassal of Ieyasu. Particularly, Tadatsugu was ranked first on the list of Tokugawa-shitenno.

When Ieyasu was transferred to Kanto region in 1590, Tadatsugu objected to the area of the territory assigned to his legitimate son Ietsugu. Tadatsugu's past achievements were not taken into consideration and Ietsugu was given only 30,000 koku. Tadatsugu objected to the significant discrepancy between the treatment he received and the favorable treatment of 100,000 koku for the other Shitenno members, that is, Tadakatsu HONDA, Yasumasa SAKAKIBARA and Naomasa II (Naomasa alone receiving 120,000 koku). However, it is well known that Tadatsugu was harshly criticized by Ieyasu saying, 'You favor your son after all,' and thus blamed implicitly for his failure in the Nobuyasu incident (but, since there is a different view on the Nobuyasu incident as described above, some say that this anecdote is a fiction, too). As such stories indicate, it is said that Tadatsugu suffered adversity in his later years.

It is also considered that the reasons for Tadatsugu's adversity in his later years included the emergence of young people like Masanobu HONDA and the promotion of Tadatsugu to an important position by Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI.

Highly appreciating the competence of Tadatsugu, Hideyoshi made every effort for the conferment of the rank to Tadatsugu and his appointment to the office in 1586 despite his being a vassal of a different family, and when Tadatsugu retired, Hideyoshi also gave him a residence in Sakurai, Kyoto and 1,000 koku to cover the living expense in Kyoto.

[Original Japanese]