The Sengoku period of Japan was a time when the warriors of Japan really shined. This period lasted from the year of 1467 to the year of 1603 and considering that it panned out for about a century and a half, there are surely numerous warriors that can make the list of being the best ones that lived during those times. A perfect example of such a person is a man named Saito Dosan who lived by many other names during his lifetime which was namely Matsunami Shokuro, Nishimura Kankuro, Nagai Yorihide, Saito Hidetatsu, and Saito Toshimasa.
Saito Dosan’s Rise to Power and Influence
There are a couple of versions you find when looking for the details on how Saito Dosan was brought into this world. There is a version that states that he was the illegitimate son of a man named Matsuda Motomune. In this version, he would attempt to be an oil seller under the name of Nishimura Kankuro who would serve under Nagai Nagahiro of the Mino province. The other version of his origin states that he was a son of a monk who served in the Myoukaku-ji which can be found in Kyoto. In this version of his story, he was able to get into the Nagai clan and rise in their ranks through the aid of an abbot that his father knew from his days as a monk. He rose in the Nagai ranks to the point that he eventually took the surname of the Nagai himself as Nagai Yorihide.
Regardless of which version of his life you choose to believe, both versions say that he was born in the year of 1494 and both versions explain how he inevitably and eventually ends up serving the Nagai clan. What usually happens in the lives of notable samurais in Japanese history is that they eventually become the head of the clan through their hard work and loyalty but in the case of Saito, he caused more trouble than solutions for his clan. He stirred up so much trouble that the problems he was creating within the Mino Province were causing major instability in the province. With this being the case, Toki Yoshinari tried to pacify the troublemaker by giving him his concubine in hopes that he would be thankful enough to stop being such a pain in the province. The Toki and the Nagai are closely related because the Nagai clan served as the retainers of the Toki for a very long period of time.
If you aren't familiar with the events of these times in Japan, you probably wouldn't know that such offers almost never happened. If you were a troublemaker in a certain region and the type of trouble you would stir up would be the type to destroy a province, you can almost be sure that death is coming your way and not a pretty lady. With this being said and knowing that what he would get for his cooperation was a beautiful woman, it became pretty obvious that they were desperate to make him stop doing what he was doing. This might have been the case because of his power and relation to the Toki, but nevertheless, this gesture really showcased just how special of a treatment this guy was getting early on in his life.
Unfortunately, this didn’t go as Yoshinari expected and 9 years after Saito Dosan succeeded his father in the year of 1533, he became successful in the Gekokujo or the overthrowing of the Nagai clan from their position of power. He immediately took control over the Mount Kinka area because of its strategic position to support the next moves that he planned to make. Two years after he overthrew the Nagai in the year of 1542, he successfully overthrew the Toki. With this victory, he was able to establish himself as the daimyo of Mino and he built the Inokuchi or Inabayama Castle to commemorate his rise to that position. It wasn’t clearly stated in any documentation or historical reference but he did gain a reputation as a ruthless schemer as he ascended through the ranks because it was said that he murdered a lot of his superiors to rise up as quickly as he did. This reputation is also what would eventually cause him to be known as the “Viper of Mino” or Mino no Mamushi. It is and was a sick title to get but what it meant could have never been a reputation anyone would have ever wanted because it practically pinned you down as a human being that was as evil as one can get.
What He Did During His Reign
Having a reputation as the ruthless schemer can make it pretty clear how fearless of a person you are and this is exactly what he continued to show during his time as a daimyo. He was brave enough to fight against the overwhelming forces of the Oda clan and he was even able to hand Oda Nobuhide of the Owari province a defeat at their battle in Kanoguchi in the year of 1547. Despite the fact that he seems to be involved with a lot of bloody acts, he was a smart leader and this was showcased when he decided to make peace with Oda Nobuhide and the Oda clan by letting Oda Nobunaga, who was the son of Nobuhide, marry his daughter. With this event, Saito Dosan became the father-in-law of one of the most powerful people that have ever lived in Japan. It made him look all the more invincible to his foes because they knew that the support that Oda Nobunaga could offer was enough to overthrow any war during those times.
Before going further down the timeline of Saito’s reign, it would be important to note that there is a controversy that involves the concubine given by Toki Yoshinari prior to his rise to higher positions and his firstborn son named Yoshitatsu who was also the son of the said concubine. You probably know that it takes 9 months before a baby can mature enough to come out healthy from its mother. In the case of Yoshitatsu, there were rumors that he came out of his mother less than 9 months from the time that he was given to Dosan by Yoshinari which meant that he was not really a son of Saito Dosan.
Saito Dosan was already being depicted as a vile man during those times so it was pretty obvious that he wouldn't take this revelation about his supposed heir well. This created doubt within Saito Dosan so, despite the fact that he was mentoring and establishing Yoshitatsu for the role in Inabayama, Saito Dosan still planned to choose one of his other two sons to succeed him when the time came. When Yoshitatsu found out about Dosan’s plans, he decided to take the war to his father instead of wait for the war to be brought to him. This war went on for about 4 months and 20 days and it is said that on the last day of this war, referred to as the Battle of Nagaragawa, Toshimasa or Dosan found himself outnumbered by the Nagara River. Dosan got beheaded in that encounter but his life was not taken away by the hands of his son. Rather, it was a man named Komaki Genta who would have his honor of defeating the Viper of Mino.
This amazed a lot of people because the people closely related to Oda Nobunaga during those times were usually untouchable or well supported at the very least. Since Dosan was the father-in-law of Oda Nobunaga, one would expect Oda to prioritize the supporting and safety of his close relative. Saito Dosan even sent a document to Nobunaga in which he stated that he required his aid for the coming battle. Sadly, Nobunaga, being preoccupied with his most formidable opponent named Takeda Shingen, was not able to provide the aid needed by his father-in-law in time to save him. There were only a couple of times in Japanese history wherein Oda failed to support a close ally. Because of this rarity of events, it could have been attributed as destiny at work but it cannot be avoided that there will also be some people who think that Oda Nobunaga let his father-in-law get beaten during those times.
How He is depicted in Anime and Video Games
Because of all the intense and interesting wars and battles that happened during the Sengoku period, it naturally drew the attention of anime artists and video game designers as a source of inspiration for the artwork they produce. Nowadays, you can find a lot of animes that make use of the historical events that happened during this time as well as characters and great warriors who lived and fought during this time. To name some of notable personalities that have commonly shown up or has been used for these anime and video games, there are the likes of the Ashikaga clan members, the Azai clan members, and the Imagawa clan members. When talking about these anime and video game icons, you also can’t overlook the likes of Takenaka Shigeharu A.K.A. Hanbei, Yosuke Kuroda, Akechi Mitsuhide, Yoshiharu Sagara, Ishikawa Goemon, Saika, and Yamato.
In the case of Saito Dosan, he makes an appearance in the anime called Oda Nobuna No Yabou wherein he is still known as the Viper of Mino. This anime depicts him as the father of Kicho and the closest thing to a father that Nobuna has, who happens to be the main character of the show. Aside from those differences, this anime made use of Saito Dosan’s character quite precisely with how his life was in reality which is a good thing because unconsciously, the kids watching this anime is fed accurate information about an interesting historical Japanese personality. Since the correct information is being fed into their very absorbent brains, they naturally retain these details and unknowingly learn about a dramatic portion of Japan during those times.
Considering all that has been said about Saito Dosan, he was definitely a man that showed a side of the Japanese that you don’t usually see. He had a bit of a dark side to him but it was what made it possible for him to have the life that he got and during those times, what he did was frowned upon but irrefutably acceptable so you can’t really hate the guy for it. If anything, he showed people how to make use of what you have to make the situation work for you and to your advantage. If you do decide to make him a model in your life, just remember to focus on his ability to maximize himself instead of the fact that he did do some dirty things to get to the top.