Lifespan: Tenbun 6 (1537) to 5/21 of Tenshō 3 (1575)
Other Names: Gentarō (childhood), Gentazaemon (common)
Title: Lieutenant of Outer Palace Guards of the Left Division
Lord: Takeda Shingen → Takeda Katsuyori
Father: Sanada Yukitsuna
Mother: Kyōunin (younger sister of Kawara Takamasa, or, under another theory, the daughter of Obu Toramasa)
Siblings: Nobutsuna, Masateru, Masayuki, Nobutada, Kanai Takakatsu, Kiyoaki (?)
Wife: [Formal] Okita-sama (daughter of Takanashi Masayori, or, under another theory, daughter of Inoue Jirōzaemon)
Children: Yoemon, Nobuoki, Nobumitsu, Seiin-inden (formal wife and later consort of Sanada Nobuyuki)
Sanada Nobutsuna served as a bushō during the Sengoku period. Nobutsuna was a hereditary chief retainer of the Kai-Takeda clan serving Takeda Harunobu (Shingen) and Takeda Katsuyori. He is included among the Twenty-Four Generals of the Takeda and led a cavalry battalion of 200 soldiers.
In 1537, Nobutsuna was born as the lineal heir of Sanada Yukitsuna, a retainer of the Kai-Takeda clan and a landlord in Shinano Province. His mother, Kyōunin, was the younger sister of Kawara Takamasa, a hereditary retainer of the Sanada family. According to one account, she was the daughter of Obu Toramasa. His wife (or consort), Okita-sama, was the daughter of Takanashi Masayori, later adopted by Inoue Kiyomasa (Jirōzaemon), from northern Shinano. His daughter, Seiin-inden, became the formal wife of Sanada Nobuyuki (the lineal heir of Sanada Masayuki who was Nobutsuna’s younger brother). His younger brothers, Masayuki and Nobutada, became attendants for Takeda Shingen from an early age so Nobutsuna is surmised to have served Shingen from an early age as well.
Nobutsuna’s name first appears in authenticated records as a joint signatory with his father, Yukitsuna, for a donation to the rear shrine of the Ujigami-Azumayasan Shirayama Shrine. This provides evidence that, as of this time, his position as the lineal heir and designated successor of his father had been confirmed. While Nobutsuna served the Takeda family, there is a lack of details regarding his first experience in battle and events during the first half of his life. His life overlapped with his father’s, Yukitsuna, so during most of the first half of his life, the records are in regard to Yukitsuna with few details of Nobutsuna.
In 1561, during the Fourth Battle of Kawanakajima, Nobutsuna and his father, Yukitsuna, joined a detached division for an assault on Mount Saijo. In 1563, from around the time of the assault on Iwabitsu Castle, Yukitsuna was primarily active in the Agatsuma District of Kōzuke Province while Nobutsuna remained in Shinano. In 1572, Nobutsuna served in lieu of Yukitsuna as the head of kokujin in Shinano affiliated with the Kai-Takeda. Around this time, it is surmised that Nobutsuna had succeeded Yukitsuna although, based on other historical accounts, the succession occurred by the time of the Invasion of Western Kōzuke in 1567.
On the battlefield, Nobutsuna usually participated with his father, Yukitsuna, and younger brother, Sanada Masateru. Together with Yukitsuna, he engaged in battles in Shinano and Kōzuke. In 1568, Nobutsuna joined Masateru as members of the vanguard forces for an invasion of Suruga Province. In 1569, at the Battle of Mimasetōge, Nobutsuna, together with Masateru and Naitō Masatoyo, made contributions serving in the rear guard. Thereafter, he served in every major battle of the Takeda, typically as a member of the vanguard forces. He is also surmised to have served as the chamberlain of Minowa Castle in Kōzuke Province. He appears to have been treated in a manner similar to a hereditary retainer. In 1572, Nobutsuna served in the Western Campaign by Takeda Shingen and, at the Battle of Mikatagahara, fought valiantly on the front lines for the Takeda army.
In the fifth month of 1574, upon the death of Yukitsuna, Nobutsuna formally inherited the headship of the Sanada family. One year later, on 5/21 of Tenshō 3 (1575), he led soldiers from the Sanada clan in the Battle of Nagashino. Wielding a one-meter-long jintachi, or long sword, from the Bitchū-Aoe school of swordsmiths, he fought valiantly, toppling anti-cavalry palisades while approaching the enemy camp, but was shot by a battalion of arquebusiers and, together with his younger brother, Masateru, died in battle.
Nobutsuna was thirty-nine years old. The gravestone at the ancient battlefield of Shitaragabara has an inscription that says: “Memorial to Sanada Gentazaemon Nobutsuna.”
Upon orders of Katsuyori, the orphans of Nobutsuna were not permitted to inherit the headship of the Sanada family. Masayuki, who had inherited the Mutō family, inherited the Sanada family.
Nobutsuna is deemed to have been killed by a retainer of the Tokugawa, Watanabe Hanjūrō Masatsuna (the younger brother of Watanabe Moritsuna), but there are alternate theories that he was killed by senior retainers under Oda Nobunaga, namely, Shibata Katsuie, Niwa Nagahide, and Hashiba Hideyoshi. After wrapping his head in a battle coat, two retainers, Kitazawa Saizō and Shirakawa Kageyu brought it back to Kai Province and the blood-stained coat is kept at the Nobutsuna Temple in the City of Ueda. These two retainers then martyred themselves on behalf of Nobutsuna. As recognition for their loyalty, the Kitazawa family was granted a fief of 300 koku and the Shirakawa family was granted 200 koku.
Nobutsuna’s younger brother, Masayuki, built the Nobutsuna Temple as a memorial to his older brother. To the south of the temple stood One Castle which originated from a residence occupied by the Sanada clan during the Muromachi period.
Having shown to be an intrepid warrior, Nobutsuna was the subject of high expectations from Shingen. His younger brother, Masayuki, also admired Nobutsuna’s courage. Masayuki gave his second son, Sanada Nobushige, the common name of Zaemon-no-suke after Nobutsuna hoping that his son would be a courageous bushō like Nobutsuna.
In his first experience in battle during an assault on Koiwatake Castle in Shinano Province, Nobutsuna served valorously in the front line. In the genealogical records of the Sanada family, he is praised for being an exceptional bushō from an early age, and while serving two generations of lords (Shingen and Katsuyori), having made many contributions during sieges of castles as well as in field battles.