Yamagata Masakage (山県 昌景, born in 1524 and died on June 27, 1575) was one of the 24 generals of Shingen Takeda. A Sengoku era samurai in the service of the Takeda clan, he was the younger brother of Toramasa Obu and renowned for being an excellent fighter.
Masakage was born into the Iitomi clan, first known as Iitomi Genshirō, then as Obu Saburo (when he was adopted by the Obu clan) and finally as Yamagata Masakage when he received his fiefdom in Shinano province.
Masakage was a close friend of Shingen Takeda and participated at his side in many military campaigns.
In 1554, he took part in a military campaign in the south of Shinano province and distinguished himself during the capture of Kannomine castle defended by Chiku Yorimoto.
The latter and his generals surrendered and became vassals of the Takeda clan, other sources report that they were beheaded or that they had already rallied to Shingen since 1552.
He was then present at the 3rd battle of Kawanakajima in 1557, during which he penetrated deeply into the territory of the Uesugi, capturing the castle of Otari, which had been securing the road to Itogaiwa. This considerably weakened the strategic position of the Uesugi and accelerated their retreat.
It is probably on this occasion, at the head of the vanguard of the Takeda clan's army, that he confronted Ichikawa Fujiyoshi, commander of the rear guard of the opposing camp.
According to some reliable sources, his troops attacked while the Uesugi forces were having lunch, driving them out of their positions and setting them on fire. However, the Uesugi counterattacked and fought with honor.
At the 4th battle of Kawanakajima in 1561, Yamagata Masakage was again the commander of Shingen Takeda's vanguard where he again played a major role in his side's victory. According to Koyo Gunkan: "The hatamoto Obu Saburo (Yamagata Masakage's former name) and his men pushed back the enemy troops under the command of Kakizaki Kageie and pursued them for 100 meters.
Yamagata Masakage and his men wore red armor in battle, which earned them the nickname "red unit" or "fire unit" (as did his brother Toramasa Obu and his warriors). Ii Naomasa of the Tokugawa clan was inspired by this to create his "red demon" units.
Following the suicide of his brother Obu Toramasa, Masakage took up the idea of his brother's "red unit" and equipped his cavalry with bright red armor. His unit traditionally charged first, bringing confusion and fear to the enemy because of the excellent reputation of his warriors.
He was then one of the protagonists of the battle of Mimasetoge in 1569 which resulted in a defeat of the Takeda, who were ambushed by the troops of the Hōjō clan. That year he also successfully defended Ejiri Castle.
He participated in the Mikatagahara campaign from 1572 to 1573 and was present at the ensuing battle of Mikatagahara in 1573, during which he commanded 5,000 men.
He distinguished himself by capturing the castle of Yoshida, which was a possession of the Tokugawa clan and thus isolating Tokugawa Ieyasu in Hamamatsu and depriving the enemy army of reinforcements.
Nobuharu Baba and Masakage were the first two commanders of the Takeda army to arrive in front of the castle, and they showed prudence by delaying the assault although it was an act of disobedience.
It was in front of this castle, in 1573, that Masakage faced with only four of his samurai the bodyguards of a hatamoto of Tokugawa Ieyasu in single combat, this did not lead to any battle but contributed to the prestige of Masakage and his veterans.
After the death of Shingen Takeda and the advent of his son Katsuyori Takeda as head of the clan, Masakage retained a privileged position in terms of esteem and influence. This was not enough to convince Katsuyori to change his strategy at the battle of Nagashino, which Masakage and other generals such as Nobuharu Baba wanted.
He died at the battle of Nagashino in 1575; he was then commander of the vanguard of the left wing of the Takeda army and fell during a horse charge against the Oda/Tokugawa lines led by Honda Tadakatsu and his men.
He was hit by a volley of bullets, unhorsed and then decapitated by a samurai. He was again leading his "red unit" of which no man survived the battle.
His armor is on display at the Tenzan Museum in the town of Hachiōji.
Some rumors report that Yamagata Masakage was the one who revealed the plot of Takeda Yoshinobu and Toramasa Obu (his older brother) against Takeda Shingen in 1565, resulting in the suicide of both men.
According to another rumor, Tokugawa Ieyasu declared a few years after the end of the conflict that Yamagata Masakage was the general of the Takeda clan that he was most afraid to face on the battlefield.
According to another legend, Masakage was called by Shingen Takeda on his deathbed in 1573 to plant the Takeda banner at Seta Bridge, the traditional eastern gate of Kyoto, if the clan was to win.