Oda Nobunaga

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Oda Nobunaga

Oda Nobunaga (織田 信長 Oda Nobunaga, June 23, 1534 - June 21, 1582) was a major daimyo during the Sengoku period of Japanese history. Son of Oda Nobuhide, a minor warlord with meager land holdings in Owari Province, Oda lived a life of continuous military conquest to eventually conquer most of Japan before his untimely death in 1582.



Young Nobunaga

In 1534, Nobunaga was born to regional daimyo Oda Nobuhide in the Shobata Castle. He was Nobuhide's third son; however, he was the first son not born to a concubine and so was the heir to the Oda clan and domain in the Owari province. He was made the master of Nagoya Castle at a young age, and was brought up under the tutelage of senior Oda retainer, Hirate Masahide, apart from his brother Nobuyuki. As a youth, Nobunaga was known for his eccentric behaviour and lack of restraint. He was even called the "Owari's Great Fool" by some people openly.

In the year 1546, Nobunaga went through his coming of age ceremony, and the next year, Nobunaga saw his first, though short, military action in Mikawa province.

In a political manoeuvre, Hirate Masahide sent a proposal to the Oda clan's rival daimyo in Mino province, Saito Dosan, to have Nobunaga marry Dosan's daughter, Nohime. This marriage forged an alliance between the two formerly hostile clans.

Unification of Owari Province

In 1551, Oda Nobuhide died unexpectedly, and during his funeral, Nobunaga was said to have acted outrageously, throwing the ceremonial incense at the altar. This act further alienated many Oda retainers, convincing them of Nobunaga's supposed mediocrity and lack of discipline, and they began to side with his more soft-spoken and well-mannered brother, Nobuyuki.

Ashamed for Nobunaga's behaviour, Hirate Masahide committed seppuku. This came as a huge blow to Nobunaga, who lost a mentor and a valuable retainer. He later built a temple to honour Hirate.

Though Nobunaga was recognized as Nobuhide's legitimate successor, the Oda clan was divided into many factions, and even then, the entire clan was technically under Owari's true kanrei, Shiba Yoshimune. Thus, Oda Nobutomo, being Owari's deputy shugo with the powerless Shiba as his puppet, was able to challenge Nobunaga's place as Owari's new master. Nobutomo murdered Yoshimune when it was clear he supported and attempted to aid Nobunaga.

However, Nobunaga successfully persuaded Oda Nobumitsu, a younger brother of Nobuhide, to join his side, and with Nobumitsu's help, Nobutomo was slain in the Kiyosu Castle, which later became Nobunaga's place of residence for over ten years. Taking advantage of Yoshimune's son, Shiba Yoshikane's position as the rightful kanrei, Nobunaga forged an alliance with the Imagawa clan of Suruga province and the Kira clan of Mikawa province, as both clans were also kanrei and would have no excuse to decline. In effect, this ensured the Imagawa would have to stop attacking Owari's borders.

Even though Nobuyuki and his supporters were still at large, Nobunaga led an army to Mino province to aid Saito Dosan, when his son, Saito Yoshitatsu turned against him. The campaign failed, however, as Dosan was killed and Yoshitatsu became the new master of Mino in 1556.

A few months later, Nobuyuki, with the support of Shibata Katsuie and Hayashi Hidesada, rebelled against Nobunaga. They were defeated at the Battle of Inō. The three were pardoned with the intervention of the birth mother of Nobunaga and Nobuyuki. However, the next year, Nobuyuki again planned to rebel. Informed by Shibata Katsuie, Nobunaga faked illness and assassinated Nobuyuki in Kiyosu Castle.

By 1559, Nobunaga had already eliminated all opposition within the clan as well as the Owari province. He continued to use Shiba Yoshikane as an excuse to make peace with other daimyo, although it was later discovered that Yoshikane secretly corresponded with the Kira and Imagawa clans, trying to oust Nobunaga and restore the Shiba clan's place. Nobunaga cast him out, and alliances made in the Shiba clan's name thus became void.

Battle of Okehazama

In 1560, Imagawa Yoshimoto gathered an army of 20,000 to 40,000 men and started his march toward Kyoto, with the excuse of aiding the frail Ashikaga shogunate. The Matsudaira clan of Mikawa was also to join Yoshimoto's forces.

In comparison, the Oda clan could barely rally an army of 5,000, and the forces would also have to be split up to defend various forts at the border. Under such dire circumstances, Nobunaga was said to have performed his favourite Atsumori dance, before riding off with only a few attendants to pray in a shrine. Aided by a sudden thunderstorm, Nobunaga assaulted Yoshimoto's base and slew Yoshimoto, resulting in a victory that stunned the entire country. This was known as the Battle of Okehazama, and brought Nobunaga's name to national prominence.

Rapidly weakening, the Imagawa clan no longer exerted control over the Matsudaira clan. In 1561, an alliance was forged between Oda Nobunaga and Matsudaira Motoyasu (later Tokugawa Ieyasu), despite the decades-old hostility between the two clans.

Tenka Fubu

In Mino, Saito Yoshitatsu died suddenly of illness in 1561, and was succeeded by his son, Saito Tatsuoki. Tatsuoki, however, was young and much less effective as a ruler and military strategist compared to his father and grandfather. Taking advantage of this situation, Nobunaga moved his base to Komaki Castle and started his campaign in Mino.

By convincing Saito retainers to abandon their incompetent and foolish master, Nobunaga weakened the Saito clan significantly, eventually mounting a final attack in 1567. Nobunaga captured the Inabayama Castle and sent Saito Tatsuoki into exile.

Oda Nobunaga then moved into Inabayama, and renamed his new castle as well as the city to Gifu. Naming it after the legendary Mount Gi in China (Q in Standard Mandarin), on which the Zhou dynasty started, Nobunaga revealed his ambition to conquer the whole of Japan. He also started using a new personal seal that read Tenka Fubu (天下布武), which means "Cover that which is under the sky with the sword".

In 1564, Nobunaga had his sister, Oichi marry Azai Nagamasa, a daimyo in northern Omi province. This would later help pave the way to Kyoto.

In 1568, the last Ashikaga shogun, Ashikaga Yoshiaki went to Gifu, requesting that Nobunaga start a campaign toward Kyoto. Yoshiaki was the brother of the murdered 13th Ashikaga shogun, Yoshiteru. The killers of Yoshiteru had already set up a puppet shogun, Ashikaga Yoshihide.

Nobunaga agreed to Yoshiaki's request, grasping the opportunity to enter Kyoto, and started his campaign. An obstacle in the southern Omi province, however, was the Rokkaku clan. Led by Rokkaku Yoshikata, the clan refused to recognize Yoshiaki as shogun and was ready to go to war. Nobunaga launched a rapid attack, driving the Rokkaku clan out of their castles.

Within a short amount of time, Nobunaga had reached Kyoto and driven Miyoshi clan out of the city. Yoshiaki was made the 15th shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate.

Nobunaga refused the posts of kanrei, and eventually began to restrict the powers of the shogun, making it clear that he intended to use him as a puppet to justify his future conquests. Yoshiaki, however, was not pleased about being a puppet, and thus, he secretly corresponded with various daimyo, forging an anti-Nobunaga alliance (信長包囲網).

The Asakura clan, in particular, was disdainful of the Oda clan's rising power. Historically, the Oda clan had been subordinate to the Asakura clan, and Asakura Yoshikage also temporarily protected Ashikaga Yoshiaki but was not willing enough to march toward Kyoto; thus, the Asakura clan despised Nobunaga the most for his success.

When Nobunaga launched a campaign into the Asakura clan's domain, Azai Nagamasa, to whom Oichi was married, broke the alliance with Oda to honour the Azai-Asakura alliance which had lasted for generations. With the help of Ikko rebels, the anti-Nobunaga alliance sprang into full force, taking a heavy toll on the Oda clan.

At the Battle of Anegawa, Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu defeated the combined forces of the Asakura and Azai clans.

Finally, tired with the Tendai warrior monks who hid in the Enryakuji on Mt. Hiei, a significant cultural symbol, Nobunaga attacked it and burnt it to the ground in 1571, killing many non-combatants in the process.

Through the years, Nobunaga was able to consolidate his position and conquer his enemies through brutality. In Nagashima, for example, Nobunaga suffered tremendous losses to the Ikko resistance, including a couple of his brothers. Nobunaga finally surrounded the enemy complex and set fire to it, again killing tens of thousands of non-combatants, mostly women and children.

At the height of the anti-Nobunaga alliance, Takeda Shingen was convinced that he should rise against the Oda clan. Tied down in perpetual warfare, Nobunaga sent lacklustre aid to Tokugawa Ieyasu, who suffered defeat at the Battle of Mikatagahara in 1572.

However, after the battle, the Takeda forces retreated as Shingen died of illness (or perhaps, as it had been speculated, of aggravated wounds or at the hand of an assassin) in 1573. This was a relief for Nobunaga, who could now focus on Yoshiaki, who had openly declared hostility more than once, despite the royal court's intervention.

Nobunaga defeated Yoshiaki's weak forces and sent him into exile, bringing the Ashikaga shogunate to an end in the same year.

Still in the same year, Nobunaga successfully destroyed the Asakura and Azai clans, and Azai Nagamasa sent Oichi back to Nobunaga as he committed suicide. With Nagashima's destruction in 1574, the only threat to Nobunaga was the Takeda clan, now led by Takeda Katsuyori.

At the decisive Battle of Nagashino, the combined forces of Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu devastated the Takeda clan with the strategic use of muskets.

Nobunaga continued his expansion, sending Shibata Katsuie and Maeda Toshiie to the north and Akechi Mitsuhide to Tamba province.

The Oda clan's siege of Ishiyama Honganji in Osaka still had little progress, but the Mori clan of Chugoku region started sending supplies into the strongly-fortified complex by sea, breaking the naval blockade.

In 1577, Hashiba Hideyoshi was ordered to expand west to confront the Mori clan.

In 1578, the Azuchi Castle in the Omi province was completed, an impressive and extravagantly decorated castle that shocked European missionaries and ordinary courtiers alike.

However, in the same year, Uesugi Kenshin, who was said to be the only military commander to have bested Takeda Shingen in battle, started his march toward the Oda domain as well. He defeated the Oda army, retreated in winter only to return the next spring, but eventually died of stroke before making any progress (or perhaps assassinated, as speculated).

Nobunaga forced the Ishiyama Honganji to surrender in 1580 and destroyed the Takeda clan in 1582. Nobunaga's administration was at its height of power, and was about to launch invasions into Echigo province and Shikoku.

Incident at Honnoji

In 1582, Hashiba Hideyoshi invaded Bitchu province, laying siege to Takamatsu Castle. However, the castle was vital to the Mori clan, and losing it would leave the Mori home domain vulnerable. Led by Mori Terumoto, reinforcements arrived outside Takamatsu Castle, and the two sides came to a standstill. Hashiba asked for reinforcements from Oda Nobunaga.

It has often been argued that Hashiba in fact had no need for reinforcements, but asked Nobunaga anyway for various reasons. Some believe that Hashiba, envied and hated by fellow generals for his swift rise from a lowly footman to a top general under Oda Nobunaga, wanted to give the credit for taking Takamatsu to Nobunaga so as to humble himself in front of other Oda vassals. Some also speculate that Hashiba or his retainers in fact wanted to put Nobunaga in a vulnerable position in the front where he might be more easily assassinated. Others believe that Hashiba in fact was the mastermind behind Akechi Mitsuhide's treachery.

In any case, Nobunaga ordered Niwa Nagahide to prepare for an invasion of Shikoku and Akechi Mitsuhide to assist Hashiba Hideyoshi. En route to Chugoku region, Nobunaga stayed at Honnoji, a temple in Kyoto. Though guarded only by a few dozen personal servants and bodyguards, Nobunaga would not expect an attack on him in the middle of his firmly-controlled territories.

Nevertheless, Akechi Mitsuhide suddenly had Honnoji surrounded in a coup. His forces at the same time assaulted Nijo Castle, and Oda Nobutada killed himself after sending the kōtaishi away. Nobunaga also committed suicide at Honnoji, at the age of 49.


Militarily, Oda's revolutionary dreaming not only changed the way war was fought in Japan, but also in turn made one of the most modernized forces in the world at that time. He developed, implemented, and expanded the use of long pikes, firearms, ironclad ships, and castle fortifications in accordance with the expanded mass battles of the period. Oda also instituted a specialized warrior class system and appointed his retainers and subjects to positions based on ability, not wholly based on name, rank, or family relationship as in prior periods. Retainers were also given land on the basis of rice output, not land size. Oda's organizational system in particular was later used and extensively developed by his ally Tokugawa Ieyasu in the forming of the Tokugawa shogunate in Edo.

Oda's dominance and brilliance was not restricted to the battlefield, for he also was a keen businessman and understood the principles of microeconomics and macroeconomics. First, in order to modernize the economy from an agricultural base to a manufacture and service base, castle towns were developed as the center and basis of local economies. Roads were also made within his domain between castle towns to not only facilitate trade, but also to move armies great distances in short timespans. International trade was also expanded beyond China and the Korean peninsula, while nanban (southern barbarian) trade with Europe, the Philippines, Siam, and Indonesia was also started.

Oda also instituted rakuichi rakuza policies as a way to stimulate business and the overall economy. These policies abolished and prohibited monopolies and opened once closed and privileged unions, associations, and guilds, which he saw as impediments to commerce. He also developed tax exemptions and established laws to regulate and ease the borrowing of debt.

As Oda conquered Sengoku period Japan and amassed a great amount of wealth, he progressively supported the arts for which he always had an interest, but which he later and gradually more importantly used as a display of his power and prestige. He built extensive gardens and castles which were themselves great works of art. Azuchi castle on the shores of Lake Biwa is said to be the greatest castle in the history of Japan, covered with gold and statues on the outside and decorated with standing screen, sliding door, wall, and ceiling paintings made by his subject Kano Eitoku on the inside. Oda is remembered in Japan as one of the most brutal figures of the Sengoku period. During this time, Oda's subject and tea master Sen no Rikyu established the Japanese tea ceremony which Oda popularized and used originally as a way to talk politics and business. The beginnings of modern kabuki were started and later fully developed in the early Edo period. Additionally, Oda was very interested in European culture which was still very new to Japan. He collected pieces of Western art as well as arms and armour. He is considered to be among the first Japanese people in recorded history to wear European clothes. He also became the patron of the Jesuit missionaries in Japan, although he never converted to Christianity.

Oda was the first of three unifiers during the Sengoku period. These unifiers were (in order) Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu. Oda Nobunaga was well on his way to the complete conquest and unification of Japan when Akechi Mitsuhide, one of his generals, forced Oda into committing suicide in Honnoji in Kyoto. Akechi then proceeded to declare himself master over Oda's domains, but was quickly defeated by Oda`s general Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

Oda in fiction

Oda has been used extensively as a reference in fiction, appearing in video games (such as Onimusha), manga, and anime (such as Flame of Recca and Samurai Deeper Kyo), often portrayed as a villain with monstrous help as the source of his power. In other video games series such as Kessen and Nobunaga no yabou, Oda Nobunaga is portrayed as a hero. Oda Nobunaga is also a central character in Eiji Yoshikawa's historical novel Taiko ki. Oda is also one of 20 historical figures in the History Channel's game, Anachronism, where people from different times and races are pitted against each other in an arena. Oda features the yumi, or the bow of the samurai, kyudo, the way of the bow, a Japanese equivalent of plate mail, and Izinagi, the god of life in the Shinto religion.

External link

de:Oda Nobunaga nl:Oda Nobunaga ja:織田信長 pl:Oda Nobunaga pt:Oda Nobunaga sv:Oda Nobunaga zh:织田信长


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