Battle of Sannōdō

山王堂の戦い

Uesugi Clan

Hitachi Province

Oda Clan

Date:  4/28 of Eiroku 7 (1564)

Location:  Sannōdō in the Makabe District of Hitachi Province

Synopsis:  In Hitachi, Oda Ujiharu of Oda Castle (in the south) and Satake Yoshiharu of Ōta Castle (in the north) opposed one another.  Initially, both parties aligned with the Uesugi, but then Ujiharu was persuaded by Hōjō Ujiyasu to collude with the Hōjō.  Upon request of the Satake, Uesugi Kenshin led forces to attack the Oda.  After a violent battle waged in muddy rice fields in Sannōdō, Ujiharu fled in defeat to Oda Castle, enduring a subsequent siege and fleeing again to Fujisawa Castle.

Lord:  Uesugi Kenshin 

Commanders:  Uesugi Kenshin, Kakizaki Kageie, Irobe Katsunaga, Hōjō Takahiro, Nakajō Fujisuke

Forces:  Over 8,000

Losses:  Unknown

Lord:  Oda Ujiharu

Commanders:  Oda Ujiharu, Sugenoya Masasada, Shinoda Harufusa

Forces:  3,000

Losses:  Significant (estimated at over 2,000)

The Battle of Sannōdō occurred on 4/28 of Eiroku 7 (1564) during the Sengoku period at Sannōdō in the Makabe District of Hitachi Province.  This field battle was waged between Uesugi Kenshin, a daimyō of Echigo Province and Oda Ujiharu, a sengoku daimyō of Hitachi Province.

Prelude

At the time of this conflict, Uesugi Kenshin, the deputy shōgun of the Kantō, and Hōjō Ujiyasu of Sagami Province were two intensely antagonistic powers in the region.  Ujiharu was initially on the side of the Uesugi, but later abandoned them in favor of the Hōjō, inviting an invasion of Hitachi by the Uesugi army.  Ujiharu departed from his base at Oda Castle to join a field battle, but, at the end of the violent clash, retreated in defeat.  After the fall of Oda Castle, Ujiharu surrendered to Kenshin and the sphere of influence of the Hōjō disappeared from Hitachi.  Kenshin is known for exhibiting remarkable speed in this battle.

Situation in Hitachi

In Hitachi, Oda Ujiharu of Oda Castle (in the south) and Satake Yoshiharu of Ōta Castle (in the north) opposed one another.  Initially, both parties aligned with the Uesugi, but then Ujiharu was persuaded by Hōjō Ujiyasu to collude with the Hōjō.  Further, he promised to mutually support Yūki Harutomo of Shimōsa Province and Nasu Suketane of Shimotsuke Province who opposed Yoshiaki.  By this means, for a period of time in the northeast portion of the Kantō, Satake Yoshiaki, Utsunomiya Hirotsuna, and Tagaya Masatsune supported the Uesugi while Oda Ujiharu, Yūki Harutomo, and Nasu Suketane aligned in opposition to them by supporting the Hōjō.

In the second month of 1563, Satake Yoshiaki departed his base in northern Hitachi to participate in a deployment in the Kantō led by Uesugi Kenshin.  Ujiharu took advantage of Yoshiaki’s absence at the Battle of Mimura by defeating Daijō Sadakuni, the lord of Fuchū Castle and a relative of Yoshiaki.  After the defeat of Sadakuni, Yoshiaki had his younger brother, Masamoto (later known as Onosaki Yoshimasa), inherit the headship of the Daijō clan, strengthening the influence of the Satake clan in the central portion of Hitachi.  The conflict between the Oda and Satake clans progressively worsened, whereupon Yoshiaki, along with Utsunomiya Hirotsuna and Tagaya Masatsune, jointly signed a petition to request the deployment of Uesugi Kenshin.

Deployment by Uesugi Kenshin

In the fourth month of 1564, Kenshin (who at the time was in Hirai in Kōzuke Province) responded to an appeal from Yoshiaki to deploy for battle.  Accompanied by members of the Nagao family, Kakizaki Kageie, Sanponji Sadanaga, Hōjō Takahiro, Kawada Nagachika, and members of the Agakita Group including Shibata Shigeie, Irobe Katsunaga, Nakajō Fujisuke, and Takenomata Kiyotsuna, the contingent pressed forward at night and into the next day, passing through Ujiiehara in Utsunomiya and, on the evening of 4/27, arriving at Sannōdō in Hitachi Province.  Owing to the speed of their advance, reinforcements sent by other daimyō in the Kantō did not arrive in time, leaving a force of 8,000 soldiers.  While reading a reply from Kenshin brought back by a messenger, Makabe Ujimoto (a retainer of the Satake who requested reinforcements) was astonished at the report that Kenshin’s vanguard units had quickly advanced to Ujiiehara in Utsunomiya.

Sannōdō was an area of rolling hills and, at the foot of these hills, was an area of deep mud approximately 400 meters in diameter.   On the opposite side was a 3000 square meter field of reeds.  Regarding this as an optimal location, Kenshin set-up his main base and positioned his forces.  He then summoned locals to inquire as to whether there were well-known bushi in the area.  Those cited included Hiratsuka Nyūdō Jisei of Ebigashima and the Sugenoya, the Iizuka, the Akamatsu, and the Tezuka clans comprising the Four Heavenly Kings of the Oda.  The locals warned of the risk of a nighttime attack, but Kenshin did not show concern.

Field Battle at Sannōdō

After hearing that Uesugi forces led by Kenshin were pressing forward, Oda Ujiharu departed from Oda Castle leading an army of 3,000 soldiers with Sugenoya Masasada in the vanguard.  After passing-through Ōshima and Sakayori, the army crossed the Chikuwa River near mounds in front of the Sainen Temple in the village of Inano in the Ibaraki District of Hitachi.  On 4/28, the forces arrived at dawn to a 3000 square meter field of reeds near Sannōdō.  With the river behind them, he stood their battle flag south of the village of Shiio and directed the vanguard units toward Sannōdō and set-up a base in front of muddy rice fields.

On 4/28, around 8:00 AM, the Uesugi soldiers quietly descended from atop the hills then, all of sudden, raised a battle cry and charged straight toward the rice fields.  Commanders in the Oda army including Sugenoya Masasada, Shinoda Harufusa, Hiratsuka Yashirō, and Akamatsu Gyōensai allowed the enemy to approach and then responded with an arsenal of arrows, arquebus fire, spears, and glaives.  Despite many casualties, the Uesugi forces did not cower, stepping on fallen horses to traverse the muddy fields while yelling and cutting through their opponents.  Unable to withstand the ferocious assault, the Oda forces pulled back about 1000 meters to regroup but the Uesugi continued to pursue them so the two armies became jumbled together in a ruthless slaughter while stirring black haze from the battlefield beneath their feet.

The battle was witnessed by an eighteen-year-old bushō named Inagawa Iwami-no-kami, a subordinate of Makabe Ujimoto, who noted “Standing on a side of the melee of bushō, I saw the glittering clash of long swords flash like lightening and even after the fighting subsided, I hazily observed what appeared as a black fog enveloped the battlefield.”  Sugenoya Masasada in the vanguard of the Oda forces made significant contributions, but his eldest son and heir, Hikojirō Masayori, was in difficult straits after running out of a supply of arrows so those around him recommended a temporary retreat but he yelled this is the time to show loyalty by giving your life whereupon he charged into a group of enemy soldiers and perished.

The violent battle continued until around 4:00 PM.  The Oda forces took advantage of the terrain to wage a valiant fight, but the prospect of losing grew increasingly clear.  Ujiharu attempted to ride a horse across the Chikuwa River that he had traversed in the morning, but his horse was exhausted so he had to pull its head upstream to give it water.  Six or seven Uesugi forces gave chase, shooting arrows at him, but the platelets on his armor prevented the arrows from piercing through the outfit.  Ujiharu rushed up upon the shore, hailed other fleeing soldiers, and returned to Oda Castle to prepare defenses against an impending assault by the Uesugi forces.

Siege of Oda Castle

After having requested Kenshin to deploy, Satake Yoshiaki and Makabe Ujimoto arrived around the time that the Battle of Sannōdō came to an end.  They chased the fleeing Oda forces while descending upon Oda Castle.  Oda Ujiharu holed-up in the castle, but, situated on a plain, the castle was not impregnable to an assault.  The besieging forces surrounded the castle and, before long, the defenders could no longer hold-out.  In the absence of back-up from the Hōjō, Ujiharu slipped out of the castle with several tens of soldiers at night and fled to Fujisawa Castle.  In lieu of Ujiharu, a clan elder named Shinoda Harufusa fought against the assault and then took his own life in the castle.  Oda Castle then fell to Kenshin.

Aftermath

After prevailing in the battle, Kenshin transferred Oda Castle in southern Hitachi to Tagaya Masatsune and Makabe Ujimoto on behalf of Satake Yoshiaki and, at dawn the next day, quickly broke-down the base and headed to Hirai in Kōzuke, later returning to Echigo.  Meanwhile, he delegated Oda Castle to Yoshiaki.  In 1565, Oda forces assembled at Fujisawa Castle launched a surprise attack on Oda Castle, ousting the enemy garrison and recovering the castle for the clan.

The Battle of Sannōdō was not occasioned by a desire by Kenshin to acquire the territory of the Oda clan.  Instead, he responded to an appeal from the Satake clan and others to strike a blow against the Oda who formed one wing of the Hōjō clan.  The bold tactics and speed of the advance and retreat were exceptional.  A majority of the bushō based in the Kantō who were aligned with the Uesugi did not arrive on time while those who finally came after the battle expressed their congratulations to Kenshin.  The fact that only 3,000 soldiers gathered for the Oda owed to the extraordinary swiftness of Kenshin’s advance into Hitachi and conduct of the battle. This prevented the Oda from amassing their entire army or receiving support from the Hōjō.