Please note: This review is for the first edition of the book published in 2011. Stay tuned for a review on Kicho & Nobunaga 2nd Edition: Revised and Expanded (2021)
WARNING!: This book is a work of historical fiction and we will be talking about the book in depth. A spoiler alert is now in affect.
Kicho & Nobunaga came to my attention while doing research on Nōhime. Unfortunately, since many sources briefly talk about Nōhime, I hoped to find more information on her on the Internet. That is when I found out that a historical fiction novel had been written about her and her relationship with her husband, Oda Nobunaga.
The author is Rumi Komonz, which is her pen name. Her real name is Rumiko Commons who was born in Nihonbashi, Tokyo, Japan. There is little information on her on the Internet, but the back of the book biography states that she is now living in Melbourne (Australia I presume) with her husband of 30 years and has two adult children. Her credentials are listed as follows: “B.A. Gakushuin ‘78, Dip Ed Monash ‘79, LLB La Trobe ‘07.”(p. 139)
Rumi does tell us in her author’s note why she has written this book. She was amazed that many historians have completely overlooked Nōhime, even pointing to one instance where she was present at the Joubodaiin Temple the night before Nobunaga returned to Gifu Province after his march on Kyōto to re-establish the Ashikaga Shogunate, but the official Oda record by Ōta Gyūichi never mentioned she was present.(p. 137) Rumi even wonders if this was done on purpose. The book is dedicated in Nōhime’s honor and Rumi’s story about Nōhime is an interesting one.
The book starts out before Nōhime’s marriage to Nobunaga. She is quite in love with Akechi Mitsuhide, but is upset to find out that he has not asked her father, Saitō Dōsan, to marry her which the reader finds out later, has to do for political reasons. Then it cuts over to Nobunaga who tells Hirate Masahide that he wants Nōhime to be his wife, a tad different from how history has presented their marriage. Dōsan receives the proposal and tells Nōhime that she is to marry him, for now, but when the time comes, she will kill Nobunaga and become the wife to his brother, Oda Nobukatsu*, who is favored better by the Oda retainers. She accepts and marries Nobunaga, however, because she actually began to fall in love with him, she abandoned the plan.
The marriage between Nōhime and Nobunaga seems to start off on good footing. The only problem is that Nōhime has not been able to conceive, something that most historians believe about her. It is brought to Nobunaga’s attention that he really needs an heir to pass his holdings in Owari onto if something were to happen to him. It is suggested that he take a concubine and have Nōhime adopt the children to make them legitimate. This is where Lady Kitsuno comes into the picture. While Nōhime is not happy about the idea of sharing her husband with another woman, she calms down a bit once Nobunaga tells her that she will be the one to take care of the children. It still eats at her for the rest of her life, however, as she tends to be jealous of other women who are able to have children, more so if it happens to be with Nobunaga. Interestingly, this includes his own sister, Oichi.
This part of the story comes from a weird rumor that Lady ChaCha, the eldest daughter to Oichi and Azai Nagamasa, who would later become a concubine to Toyotomi Hideyoshi and the mother to Toyotomi Hideyori, was actually the daughter of Oichi and Oda Nobunaga. While there is no proof to support this, it is an interesting idea to entertain. The author does this as well, having Nōhime finding out about Oichi’s pregnancy while they were out shopping for new fabric, and she notices that her sister-in-law has gain weight. She is utterly devastated to learn that she was betrayed by her husband with his own sister. Nōhime basically orders Nobunaga to solve this by marrying her off and for Nōhime to keep the child. Oichi is married to Nagamasa and she has the child, however, Oichi’s demands to keep the child outweighed the promise to Nōhime, and Nobunaga lets his sister take her daughter, named ChaCha, to Omi. Nōhime is devastated that Nobunaga broke his promise and angry that she has never been able to share the joy of a man and wife bonding over a child they have created.
As the story progresses, there is an obvious change in behavior in Nobunaga. The wars along with the assassination attempts and rebellions have changed Nobunaga for the worse. After the assassination attempt in 1570 by the ninja Zenjubo, Nōhime is amazed that Nobunaga was alive for it is said that Zenjubo never missed his mark within a distance of twenty meters. Nobunaga responds to this by simply saying “I am immortal”, which shocked Nōhime.(p. 98) There is also his constantly changing mood towards her. One minute, Nobunaga would be downright callous, but at other times, he would be his old self and these were the times Nōhime enjoyed. Rumi even mentions the relationship Nobunaga had with Ranmaru and even before him, a young Buddhist page named Juami, who was killed in a fight with a young Maeda Toshiie, who managed to flee to avoid punishment.** Interestingly, she seems to be more understanding of the homosexual relationships that Nobunaga had which was just as common practice as taking on concubines, which bothered her to no end.
Things become more complicated for Nōhime towards the end of the book. Nobunaga’s treatment of Mitsuhide has gotten worse over time and the final straw for Mitsuhide is when Nobunaga gets his mother killed after working through negotiations and having her exchanged as a hostage, a negotiation which Nobunaga terminated. He brings this up to Nōhime, who defends her husband. One thing leads to another however, and Nobunaga figures out that Nōhime was unfaithful. Even though she is ready to die, Nobunaga strangely forgives her for reasons unknown.
Nōhime is present at Honnōji that fateful night and Nobunaga orders her to go to Mitsuhide. She wants to stay and die by his side, but Nobunaga points out that even Nagamasa sent Oichi away during his final hour. Nōhime goes but is not too happy to see Mitsuhide. She leaves with a horse and heads to Azuchi Castle, where she gets word that not only is her husband dead, but her eldest son, Nobutada, committed seppuku at Nijō Castle which was attacked the same morning. She would end up fleeing Azuchi Castle with the rest of her family to Hino Castle, where days later she learned the news that Mitsuhide had been killed. The book ends with Nōhime becoming a Buddhist nun and dying of old age in 1612.
The book is definitely well researched and even includes some footnotes on what sources were used to produce the story. It is also a book for a mature audience though. The book contains some very sexually explicit scenes, so this is definitely not a book for children. It is a short read, able to get through it in a day, but what makes it take a little longer is trying to remember who everyone is. Only a few people go throughout the book with their historical names: Kicho (Nōhime), Nobunaga, Ranmaru are just a few. Others have nicknames: Hide is Mitsuhide, Lord Strange is Nobutada, and Yasu for Tokugawa Ieyasu. This makes it somewhat difficult if the reader does not already have a good idea about the figures in this era. With the amount of important figures and events within 150 years, the amount of names becomes enormous and can be quite daunting to causal readers.
Regardless, I would highly recommend anyone who wants a historical fiction book on the Sengoku Jidai to give this book a chance. It is an easy read and is not as daunting as other books on the subject that tend to be tomes (like Shōgun and Musashi). It also focuses on a woman who does not get much attention by historians but Nōhime has been a popular figure to romanticize for fiction. Despite it being a work of fiction, this might be the closest thing we get to a biography on the wife of the “Demon King”.
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*After further research, I found that while, yes, Oda Nobukatsu was the second son to Oda Nobunaga, his younger brother, Nobuyuki, was also called Nobukatsu. This is not really explained in the book so it makes it look like a typo, but in the book and sometimes, in research, Oda Nobukatsu and Oda Nobuyuki are one and the same. Just makes sure to check the dates.
**Although I cannot find anything about this incident just reading about Maeda Toshiie on his Wikipedia article, the fact that this is the second book that references Toshiie having to flee due to him killing someone (the other book that comes to mind is Taiko by Eiji Yoshikawa), I am wondering if there is more to this story in another source somewhere.