Nōhime

Portrait of Nōhime

Nōhime (1533?-1612?), sometimes referred to as Kicho, was the wife to Oda Nobunaga and the daughter of Saitō Dōsan. You would think because of her marriage to the man known as the “Demon King”, we would know a lot about her. Unfortunately, Nōhime’s life is a bit of an enigma. Since she barely appears in any historical records, much of her life has become a tale of many theories that are in constant conflict with one another.

To start things off, we are not exactly sure when Nōhime was born. Many historians speculate that she was born between 1533 to 1535.(1) It is known that she was the daughter to Saitō Dōsan and Omi no Kata. It is possible that Nōhime and Akechi Mitsuhide, the man who would later betray her husband, were actually cousins. Considering the evidence before us, I believe they actually were considering that Omi no Kata, Nōhime’s mother, was the daughter to Akechi Mitsutsugu, who would have been Akechi Mitsuhide’s grandfather. Despite this, no source has claimed that the two are related, for the early childhood of Mitsuhide is unknown to history.(2)

Before her marriage to Nobunaga, there are a couple of names it is said that she went by. The most common one is Sagiyama-dono, but it is also possible that she was referred to as Iguchi-dono and Kinka-dono. These nicknames come from where she had been possibly staying with her family which was either Inabayama Castle (which also had the nicknames of Iguchi and Kinkayama) or to Dōsan’s retirement castle of Sagiyama.(3) Again, because much of her life is just speculation, we cannot say for sure.

Not much is known about her until her marriage to Oda Nobunaga on March 23, 1549, and even then, we do not known much about her marriage to him. We do know that the marriage was arranged as part of a peace treaty between the Saitō and Oda clans and these negotiations were spearheaded by Hirate Masahide, who was famous for being the tutor to Nobunaga.(4) Many historians have speculated that the marriage between Oda Nobunaga and Nōhime was not a pleasant one, and they site many reasons for this. The most popular theory about Nōhime is that she served as an assassin or a spy for the Saitō, hence the reason for the marriage. It is possible that she was sent to kill Nobunaga, since she was apparently skilled with a sword and in various martial arts.(5) The spy angle comes from her allegedly sending information back to her father in Mino. There is a story about one incident where Nobunaga gave Nōhime information about two men in her father’s ranks that were going to betray him. She passed along the information to her father, who killed the men, but those men were actually extremely loyal to Dōsan.(6) It is because of this speculation that many of the Oda retainers did not trust her, however, this was not the only reason.

In 1556, Saitō Dōsan was killed by his son, Saitō Yoshitatsu, who led a coup against him after rumors began to spread that he might not have been Dōsan’s son, which would take Yoshitatsu out of the running for heir if Dōsan were to die. To keep this from happening, Yoshitatsu killed his two younger brothers in 1555, then declared war on his father in 1556, and was successful in defeating him.(7) This, on top of Nōhime’s inability to conceive, was held against her. While most sources today claim that Nōhime was barren, this has even been called into question.

Many of Nobunaga’s children had unknown mothers, so it is possible that Nōhime could have had a child by Nobunaga and it was never recorded for history. There is one genealogical record that does state that there was at least one child that the couple had together, but because it has not been confirmed with any other sources, it is disregarded by historians.(8) While it is believed that she never had any children of her own, it is known that Nōhime adopted Nobunaga’s first born son, Oda Nobutada, from Lady Kitsuno, Nobunaga’s concubine, so that Nobunaga would have a legitimate heir.(9)

Interestingly, there are theories that state that Nōhime either died young or had gotten a divorce. This does not have much credibility due to records of her being alive, well and still married to Nobunaga after her husband had conquered Mino in 1569.(10) The divorce rumor comes from an edited version of Akechi Mitsuhide’s biography while her passing away at a young age comes from a rumor about how she left Nobunaga to team up with her brother, Yoshitatsu, after having an argument with her husband. Nōhime banded together with Yoshitatsu to restore Mino to the Saitō, but was said to have taken ill and died before that could have been accomplished.(11)

Sadly, not much is mentioned about Nōhime until the Honnōji Incident. Her romanticized end paints a picture of a devoted wife fighting the Akechi traitors with a naginata, but perished alongside her husband. While this is the version most novels and films gravitate towards, there is actually little to support these claims.(12) It is possible that she lived out the reminder of her life as Lady Azuchi, a woman who was recorded leaving Azuchi Castle after word of the incident had spread to the castle. If this is the case, that means that Nōhime would outlive her husband, passing away on July 26, 1612.(13)

Since she has not been remembered by history, many claim that Nōhime was either in poor health, had been divorced from Nobunaga, or unable to manage a household full of concubines and female attendants. In short, most historians view her as a bad wife. On the other hand, she was said to have been a beautiful woman who was also extremely intelligent, and since we have no records of any scandals to come from bedroom of Nobunaga, it is possible that Nōhime was more than a capable wife. (14) We will never know Nōhime’s true story, for much of her story has been muddied by works of fiction and conflicting sources. Nevertheless, history should not forget her, for she played an important role in history just like her husband.

Sources

  1. “Nōhime”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nōhime, (last visited 6/7/2021)
  2. “Akechi Mitsuhide”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akechi_Mitsuhide, (last visited 6/7/2021)
  3. “Nohime—Japanese Wiki Corpus”, https://www.japanese-wiki-corpus.org/person/Nohime.html, (last visited 6/8/2021)
  4. “Hirate Masahide”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hirate_Masahide, (last visited 6/7/2021)
  5. “Nōhime”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nōhime, (last visited 6/7/2021)
  6. “Nōhime”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nōhime, (last visited 6/7/2021)
  7. “Saitō Yoshitatsu”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saitō_Yoshitatsu, (last visited 6/7/2021)
  8. “Nohime—Japanese Wiki Corpus”, https://www.japanese-wiki-corpus.org/person/Nohime.html, (last visited 6/8/2021)
  9. “Nōhime”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nōhime, (last visited 6/7/2021)
  10. “Nohime—Japanese Wiki Corpus”, https://www.japanese-wiki-corpus.org/person/Nohime.html, (last visited 6/8/2021)
  11. “Nō”, https://koei.fandom.com/wiki/Nō, (last visited 6/7/2021)
  12. “Nohime—Japanese Wiki Corpus”, https://www.japanese-wiki-corpus.org/person/Nohime.html, (last visited 6/8/2021)
  13. “Nohime—Japanese Wiki Corpus”, https://www.japanese-wiki-corpus.org/person/Nohime.html, (last visited 6/8/2021)
  14. “Nohime—Japanese Wiki Corpus”, https://www.japanese-wiki-corpus.org/person/Nohime.html, (last visited 6/8/2021)