Honda Tadakatsu (本多 忠勝, March 17, 1548-December 3, 1610), also known as Honda Heihachirō (本多 平八郎), was a Japanese general, and later daimyo, of the late Sengoku and early Edo period, serving Tokugawa Ieyasu.
Honda Tadakatsu is one of the four heavenly kings of the Tokugawa along with Ii Naomasa, Sakakibara Yasumasa and Sakai Tadatsugu.
Originally from the Mikawa province in Japan, he lived during the Azuchi-Momoyama and Edo eras. Ieyasu promoted him from daimyo of Ōtaki domain (100,000 koku) to that of Kuwana han (150,000 koku) as a reward for his services.
In addition, his son Honda Tadatomo was appointed daimyo of Ōtaki3. In 1609, he retired and his other son Tadamasa took over Kuwana. His grandson, Tadatoki, married Senhime, the granddaughter of Tokugawa Ieyasu.
Despite his years of loyal service, Tadakatsu increasingly distanced himself from the Tokugawa shogunate (bakufu) as it developed from a military state to a civilian political institution.
This feeling was shared by many other warriors of the time, unable to convert from the chaotic life of war in the Sengoku period to the more stable peace of the Tokugawa shogunate.
Honda's reputation is such that he attracts the attention of the most influential personalities in Japan at the time. Oda Nobunaga, notoriously reluctant to praise his followers, called him a "samurai among samurai".
On the other hand, Toyotomi Hideyoshi notes that the best samurai are "Honda Tadakatsu in the east and Tachibana Muneshige in the west". Even Takeda Shingen praises Honda, saying that "he is a luxury of Tokugawa Ieyasu". It is widely acknowledged that he was a renowned samurai and a loyal servant of Tokugawa Ieyasu.
Tadakatsu is often referred to as "the warrior who surpasses death itself" because he never suffered a major injury, despite being a veteran of more than 100 fights at the end of his life, and because he was never beaten by another samurai.
Honda Tadakatsu is generally considered as one of the best generals of Tokugawa Ieyasu, and he took part in almost all the great battles of his master. He distinguished himself at the battle of Anegawa in 1570, where he helped defeat the armies of the Azai and Asakura clans along with Oda Nobunaga, an ally of Tokugawa.
Tadakatsu also served in Tokugawa's greatest defeat, the battle of Mikatagahara in 1572, where he commanded the left wing of his master's army and faced troops commanded by Naitō Masatoyo, one of the most notable generals of the Takeda clan.
Although this battle ended in defeat, Honda Tadakatsu was one of those Tokugawa generals present to take revenge on Takeda at the battle of Nagashino in 1575.
Honda commands a row of arquebusiers as the combined Oda-Tokugawa forces annihilate Takeda Katsuyori's army, thanks in part to the skillful use of rifles in a row that fire in bursts. One soldier fires while another reloads and a third cleans the barrel of the rifle.
This allows the muskets to fire continuously and eventually destroys Takeda's army. This is the first example in military history of the use of this very effective tactic.
His finest moment took place during the Komaki campaign in 1584. Left at Komaki while Ieyasu went to confront Toyotomi's troops at Nagakute, Tadakatsu observed a large army led by Hideyoshi launched in pursuit.
With a handful of men, Tadakatsu sets out and challenges Toyotomi's army from the opposite bank of the Shōnai River. Toyotomi Hideyoshi (outnumbered 50 or 60 to 1 by Honda) says he was struck by the bravery of this warrior and orders that no harm be done to him, his men, and Ishikawa Yasumichi, who accompanies him in this attempt to buy time for Ieyasu.
Honda Tadakatsu was present at the battle of Sekigahara in 1600, where Tokugawa Ieyasu's forces defeated the western alliance of daimyos commanded by Ishida Mitsunari, which allowed Tokugawa to take control of the country and put an end to the Sengoku period.
Tadakatsu seems to have been a colorful character, around whom some legends have arisen - it is often said that of all the battles in which he served, he never received a wound.
His helmet, famously adorned with deer antlers, ensures that he is always a recognizable figure on the battlefield. The name of his horse is "Mikuniguro". His spear is called "Tonbogiri" or "dragonfly cutter", because it is said that the tip of the spear is so sharp that a dragonfly that landed on it was cut in two.
His fighting prowess with this weapon was so great that he became known as one of the "Three Great Spears of Japan".
His sons Tadamasa (1575-1638) and Tadatomo (1582-1615), who both took part in the Osaka campaigns (1614 and 1615), succeeded him in the Tokugawa service.
Honda Tadakatsu is a player character in Pokémon Conquest (Pokémon + Nobunaga's Ambition in Japan), his Pokémon partners being Metagross and Dialga.
He is also a player character in Samurai Warriors in the service of Tokugawa Ieyasu and in the Warriors Orochi game series. He appears in Onimusha 3: Demon Siege and is playable in a bonus game accessible after the main story is over.
He also appears in Capcom's Sengoku Basara series, where he is referred to as "the strongest man in the warring states", still serving Tokugawa Ieyasu.