Yamagata Masakage was earlier known as Obu Saburo (and before that as Iitomi Genshir˘). His elder brother Obu Toramasa's unit was called the "red regiment" or "red fire unit" because he had equipped them all, samurai and followers alike, in bright red armour. In the Takeda family history Koyo Gunkan this unit is described in words like "...exploded on the enemy like a ball of fire...". After Toramasa's death in 1565 Masakage inherited this regiment and continued the use of red armour. He was given a fief in Shinano. He proved himself to be one of the finest Takeda generals and was instrumental in many of Takeda Shingen's campaigns.
In the 1554 campaign for southern Shinano, he attacked Chiku Yorimoto's castle Kannomine and put his territory to the torch. Yorimoto finally surrendered with his son and generals; according to the Takeda family history Koyo Gunkan they then became loyal Takeda retainers. Other sources (My˘h˘ji-ki) tell that they were beheaded, or even that they had already (in 1552) surrendered to Takeda.
During the "3rd Kawanakajima" campaign (1557) he raided far into Uesugi territory, capturing Otari castle which until then had safeguarded the Itogaiwa route into the Uesugi heartland. This weakened the Uesugi strategical position and prompted their withdrawal. The following "Battle of Uenohara" (also known as the "Third battle of Kawanakajima") was probably fought between Yamagata Masakage as commander of the Takeda vanguard and the Uesugi rearguard commander Ichikawa Fujiyoshi. According to an unreliable source the Takeda attacked while the Uesugi force were having breakfast, drove them away and set fire to their position; however, the Uesugi force counterattacked and the honours ended about even.
Yamagata Masakage was in the vanguard in the critical moments at the "Fourth battle of Kawanakajima" (1561) when all might have become unravelled for the Takeda; according to the Koyo Gunkan: "Among Shingen's hatamoto Obu Saburo [Yamagata Masakage] along with his men repelled Echigo's leading troops under Kakizaki and pursued them for about 300 yards".
He was instrumental in the "Battle of Mimasetoge" (1569), which saw the outnumbered Takeda defeat an ambush set by the H˘j˘.
In the campaign which culminated in the "Battle of Mikata ga Hara" (1572) he commanded 5000 men which broke off from the Takeda main body and took the strategically sited Yoshida castle, thereby cutting the Tokugawa forces off from any reinforcements arriving from the west. He then joined the main army for the battle. Together with Baba Nobuharu he was the first Takeda commander to arrive at the castle; their reluctance to assault it was prudent but, in that particular event, probably faulty.
According to legend, Shingen called out to Yamagata from his deathbed in 1573 and ordered him to plant his banners at the Seta Bridge, the traditional eastern gateway to Ky˘to. Masakage retained his esteemed position after Takeda Katsuyori's assumption of power after Shingen's death.
Outside Yoshida castle (1575), again leading the Takeda vanguard, he and his four personal samurai engaged selected samurai from Tokugawa Ieyasu's hatamoto (headquarters unit) in single combat - just like in the old days. No battle developed but glory was nonetheless won by this now ageing veteran.
At Nagashino (1575) Yamagata was opposed to the strategy chosen, but was ignored. As commander of the vanguard of the left wing, his unit tore into the Okabu, which held the Oda/Tokugawa far right. After a furious melee (in which Masakage no doubt displayed his considerable close combat skills) we read of him leading his unit in a charge at Honda Tadakatsu's men. Being met with a hail of bullets he was shot from his horse and beheaded by an anonymous samurai.
Tokugawa Ieyasu is supposed to have commented years later that he had feared Masakage more than any other Takeda warrior - a fitting epitaph for a great warrior.
Yamagata Masakage uma jirushi (personal banner).
The sashimono (back banner) used by Yamagata Masakage's followers was just plain black. Modern artists often depict the sashimono as smaller versions of Masakage's uma jirushi; this was normal practice by Takeda followers. However, Masakage seems not to have followed this pattern.
I have shown Yamagata Masakage in armour he is known to have worn (bar helmet; I know nothing of that). All the armour plates are black laced in red; his armoured sleeves and apron are clad in a green fabric. He is leading his "Red regiment" in a furious charge, wielding his yari one-handed.
Yamagata Masakage backing up the defence of a Takeda yamashiro mountain fortress.
Yamagata Masakage uncharacteristically making up the second line of a large Takeda assault. Yamagata often provided the Takeda vanguard in battle.
Yamagata Masakage and followers, all clad in red, leading a column.
Yamagata Masakage leading a relief column.
Yamagata Masakage in battle. Hot on his heels is his brother Obu Toramasa, wielding a sword.