Kanji: 織田 信長
Dates: June 23, 1534-June 21, 1582
Other Known Names: Kipposhi (childhood name), Saburo Nobunaga, Owari no Otsuke (“Fool of Owari”), Tenma-O (“Demon King”)
Oda clan mon
Oda Nobunaga was the first of the Three Unifiers of Japan, and was one of the most powerful daimyo in the country. He was also a very capable military commander, changing the dynamics of samurai battlefield tactics for future generations. He was known for being quite eccentric and ruthless, a reputation he got very early on.
Born on June 23, 1534 at Nagoya Castle, Oda Nobunaga was the second son to Oda Nobuhide, who was a deputy shugo in Owari Province. He was considered to be an evil child for he was known to chew off the nipples of wet nurses. When he got older, he ran with street gang and caused problems outside his family’s castle. At the age of fifteen, his father passed away, and at his funeral, he threw the ceremonial incense at the altar. His unruly attitude cost him the succession of his father’s position. This did not seem to bother Nobunaga, for he had no intentions of taking over his deceased father’s position. After the seppuku of his retainer, Hirade Kiyohide, Nobunaga woke up and decided to take responsibility. Nobunaga began to eliminate the other Oda factions and other rivals, however, because of his reputation as a child, many did not take him seriously, calling him Owari no Otsuke, the “Fool of Owari”.
In 1556, his older brother, Oda Nobuyuki, tried to usurp power from Oda Nobunaga. The following year, Nobunaga ordered for his brother to be slain at Kiyosu Castle. It was after his brother’s death that he was able to secure Owari Province and began on the path of expansion. In 1558, he lost to his rival, the Imagawa clan of Suraga, at the Battle of Terabe. Nobunaga would pay them back in kind two years later at the Battle of Okehazama in 1560.
In June 1560, Imagawa Yoshimoto assembled an army of 25,000 to march to Kyōto. During this march, he invaded Owari Province. Nobunaga set out scouts on the invasion to keep tabs on the situation. After the destruction of a couple of fortresses, Nobunaga got reports that the army had decided to rest at Dengaku-hazama, a wooded gorge, and were celebrating their victories. Many of his advisers tried to talk him out of an attack on the Imagawa army, believing that they could hold out longer defending, however, Nobunaga replied; “Do you really want to spend your entire lives praying for longevity? We were born in order to die!”. Taking 3,000 men with him, Nobunaga sprung a sneak attack after a thunderstorm, destroying the Imagawa clan, and Imagawa Yoshimoto was killed. The Battle of Okehazama launched Nobunaga into the spotlight as a formable foe.
In 1561, Oda Nobunaga made peace with Tokugawa Ieyasu, who was a leader under the Imagawa clan. This alliance became critical for it allowed Nobunaga to march on Kyōto without worrying about other clans invading his lands of Owari. During this time, Nobunaga was trying to get his father-in-law, Saitō Yoshitatsu to become allies with him. Before he could make his decision known, he died and his son, Saitō Tatsuoki took over. He refused Oda’s offer of alliance, thus leading to the campaign in Mino Province. In 1567, Nobunaga finally defeated the Saitō clan at the Siege of Inabayama, and sent Tatsuoki into exile. He renamed to the castle and surrounding town to Gifu, which has been kept to this day.
In 1568, Ashikaga Yoshiaki, the brother to the shōgun, Ashikaga Yoshiteru, came to Oda Nobunaga at Gifu Castle. He came to him for help, for a coup d’état took place in Kyōto and Yoshiteru was killed. The next shōgun would be his son, who was only an infant at the time. Yoshiaki wanted Nobunaga to help him restore the Ashikaga Shogunate. Nobunaga saw this as an opportunity to expand for he had the support of the former shōgun’s brother. Now, anyone who went against Nobunaga, went against the shōgun as well. On November 9, 1568, Nobunaga had entered Kyōto and installed Yoshiaki as shōgun.
Beginning in 1570, Oda Nobunaga would go to war with the Asakura, Azai, Takeda, Rokkaku, Miyoshi, and Matsunaga clans, as well as different sects of Buddhist warrior monks. He captured Odani and Yokoyama Castles, and fought against the Asakura-Azai alliance at the Battle of Anegawa. He also focused on the Enryaku-ji monastery at Mount Hiei and in 1571 he laid siege to the mountain, with the monastery’s causalities ranging between 3,000 and 4,000 people. In May 1571, he would begin the Siege of Nagashima, an Ikko-Ikki stronghold. It ended with horrific terrors, for Nobunaga had the complex surrounded, ordered for it to be set ablaze, and told his men that no one should escape. Twenty thousand men, women, and children perished as a result.
In 1572, tensions began to rise between the Oda and Takeda clans. It intensified with the Takeda’s attack on Tokugawa at Mikatagahara in 1573, a battle that Tokuagwa Ieyasu managed to survive. The leader of the Takeda, Shingen, passed away not long after, which allowed for Nobunaga’s attention to be focused elsewhere, for the Takeda’s attacks where ordered by the shōgun. Ashikaga Yoshiaki was overthrown in 1573, resulting in the end of the Ashikaga Shogunate. Also in 1573, Nobunaga was finally able to defeat his brother-in-law, Azai Nagamasa, resulting in the fall of the Azai clan.
The battle that would change warfare in Japan was fought between the Oda-Tokugawa alliance and the Takeda clan. In June 1575, the armies would meet at Nagashino. The Takdea was well known for their cavalry, and was the reason for Tokugawa’s narrow defeat at Mikatagahara. Nobunaga took note of this, and decided to use different tactics when facing off against them. He took 3,000 men and gave them arquebuses. They fired against the oncoming Takeda cavalry in volleys, which ended in a slaughter for the Takeda. While this was the only time this tactic was used, Nobunaga changed samurai warfare by bringing in Westernized weaponry.
After Nagashino, Oda Nobunaga continued to expand his territory, and continued his efforts at the warrior monk stronghold of Ishibayama Honganji, which the siege began in 1570. It was the longest siege in Japanese history, for it spanned eleven years, ending in 1580. In 1577, he order Toyotomi Hideyoshi to launch a campaign against the Mōri clan in the Chugoku region. That same year, Nobunaga faced off against Uesugi Kenshin at the Battle of Tedorigawa which resulted in defeat for the Oda.
In 1582, Oda Nobunaga defeated the Takeda clan for good at Battle of Tenmokuzan and he also launched a campaign in Shikuko. Nobunaga almost had the country in the palm of his hand. In June, he got word that Toyotomi Hideyoshi needed reinforcements with his campaign in Chugoku. Nobunaga assembled a force to go assist him, but before advancing, he decided to rest for the night at the Honnō-ji Temple in Kyōto. On night of June 21, 1582, one of Nobunaga’s retainers, Akechi Mitsuhide and his men attacked the temple. The events of that night are unclear, however, what is known is that the Honnō-ji Temple burned to the ground and Oda Nobunaga committed seppuku. His grave is located at Mount Koya in Wakayama Prefecture.
Oda Nobunaga was one of the most influential samurai of the Sengoku Jidai. He revolutionized warfare and favored a system of meritocratic administration, which laid the foundations for the Tokugawa Shogunate. He encouraged the development of international trade, mostly with the Western countries. Nobunaga also brought changes to Japanese culture. He built extensive gardens and castles, popularized the tea ceremony, and under his rule, the beginnings of the modern kabuki theater, and also introduced aspects of European art and culture into Japan.