Oda Nobunaga (織田 信長 Oda Nobunaga (help·info), June 23, 1534 – June 21, 1582) was a powerful daimyō (feudal lord) of Japan in the late 16th century who attempted to unify Japan during the late Sengoku period, and successfully gained control over most of Honshu. Nobunaga is regarded as one of three unifiers of Japan along with his retainers Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu. During his later life, Nobunaga was widely known for most brutal suppression of determined opponents, eliminating those who by principle refused to cooperate or yield to his demands. His reign was noted for innovative military tactics, fostering free trade, and encouraging the start of the Momoyama historical art period. He was killed when his retainer Akechi Mitsuhide rebelled against him at Honnō-ji.
Oda Nobunaga in a 16th-century portrait by Kanō Motohide
|Minister of the Right|
|Preceded by||Konoe Taneie|
|Succeeded by||Konoe Sakihisa|
June 23, 1534|
Nagoya Castle, Owari Province
June 21, 1582 (aged 47)|
Saitō Dōsan (father-in-law)|
Azai Nagamasa (brother-in-law)
Shibata Katsuie (brother-in-law)
Oda Nobuhiro (brother)
Oda Nobuyuki (brother)
Oda Nobukane (brother)
Oda Nagamasu (brother)
Oda Nobuharu (brother)
Oda Nobutoki (brother)
Oda Hidetaka (brother)
Ashikaga Yoshiaki (adopted son)
Imperial House of Japan
The goal of national unification and a return to the comparative political stability of the earlier Muromachi period was widely shared by the multitude of autonomous daimyōs during the Sengoku period. Oda Nobunaga was the first for whom this goal seemed attainable. Nobunaga had gained control over most of Honshu (see map below) before his death during the 1582 Honnō-ji incident, a coup attempt executed by Nobunaga's vassal, Akechi Mitsuhide. It is not certain whether Nobunaga was killed in the attack or committed seppuku. The motivation behind Mitsuhide's betrayal was never revealed to anyone who survived the incident, and has been a subject of debate and conjecture ever since the incident.
Following the incident, Akechi Mitsuhide declared himself master over Nobunaga's domains, but was quickly defeated by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who regained control of and greatly expanded the Oda holdings. Oda Nobunaga's successful subjugation of much of Honshu enabled the later successes of his allies Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu toward the goal of national unification by subjugating local daimyōs under a hereditary shogunate, which was ultimately accomplished in 1603 when Tokugawa Ieyasu was granted the title of shōgun by Emperor Go-Yōzei following the successful Sekigahara Campaign of 1600. The nature of the succession of power through the three daimyōs is reflected in a well-known Japanese idiom:
"Nobunaga pounds the national rice cake, Hideyoshi kneads it, and in the end Ieyasu sits down and eats it."
Oda Nobunaga was born on June 23, 1534, in the Owari domain, and was given the childhood name of Kippōshi (吉法師). He was the second son of Oda Nobuhide, a deputy shugo (military governor) with land holdings in Owari Province. He is said to have been born in Nagoya Castle, although this is subject to debate. Through his childhood and early teenage years, he was well known for his bizarre behavior and received the name of Owari no Ōutsuke (尾張の大うつけ, The Big Fool of Owari). He was known to run around with other youths from the area, without any regard to his own rank in society. With the introduction of firearms into Japan, however, he became known for his fondness of tanegashima firearms.
In 1551, Oda Nobuhide died unexpectedly. Nobunaga was said to have acted outrageously during his funeral, throwing ceremonial incense at the altar. Hirate Masahide, a valuable mentor and retainer to Nobunaga, performed seppuku to startle Nobunaga into his obligations.:68
Although Nobunaga was Nobuhide's legitimate heir, some of the Oda clan were divided against him. Collecting about a thousand men, Nobunaga suppressed those members of his family who were hostile to his rule, including his younger brother, Oda Nobuyuki. Then in 1556, he destroyed a rival branch located in Kiyosu Castle.:276
Although Nobuyuki and his supporters were still at large, Nobunaga took an army to Mino Province to aid Saitō Dōsan after Dōsan's son, Saitō Yoshitatsu, turned against him. The campaign failed, as Dōsan was killed in the Battle of Nagara-gawa, and Yoshitatsu became the new master of Mino in 1556.
In 1560, Imagawa Yoshimoto gathered an army of 25,000 men and started his march toward Kyoto, with the pretext of aiding the frail Ashikaga shogunate. The Matsudaira clan of Mikawa Province also joined Yoshimoto's forces. Against this, the Oda clan could rally an army of only 2,000 to 3,000. Some of Nobunaga's advisers suggested "to stand a siege at Kiyosu". Nobunaga refused, stating that "only a strong offensive policy could make up for the superior numbers of the enemy", and calmly ordered a counterattack.
Nobunaga's scouts reported that Yoshimoto was resting at the narrow gorge of Dengaku-hazama, ideal for a surprise attack, and that the Imagawa army were celebrating their victories while Yoshimoto viewed the heads. Nobunaga moved towards Imagawa's camp, and set up a position some distance away. An array of flags and dummy troops made of straw and spare helmets gave the impression of a large host, while the real Oda army hurried round in a rapid march to get behind Yoshimoto's camp. The heat gave way to a terrific thunderstorm. As the Imagawa samurai sheltered from the rain Nobunaga deployed his troops, and when the storm ceased they charged down upon the enemy in the gorge, so suddenly that Yoshimoto thought a brawl had broken out among his men, only realizing it was an attack when two samurai charged up. One aimed a spear at him, which Yoshimoto deflected with his sword, but the second swung his blade and cut off Imagawa's head.
Rapidly weakening in the wake of this battle, the Imagawa clan no longer exerted control over the Matsudaira clan. In 1561, an alliance was forged between Oda Nobunaga and Matsudaira Motoyasu (who would become Tokugawa Ieyasu), despite the decades-old hostility between the two clans. Nobunaga also formed an alliance with Takeda Shingen through the marriage of his daughter to Shingen's son. A similar relationship was forged when Nobunaga's sister Oichi married Azai Nagamasa of Ōmi Province.:277–78
In Mino, Saitō Yoshitatsu died suddenly of illness in 1561, and was succeeded by his son, Saitō Tatsuoki. Tatsuoki, however, was young and much less effective as a ruler and military strategist compared to his father and grandfather.:57
Taking advantage of this situation, Nobunaga moved his base to Komaki Castle and started his campaign in Mino at the 1561 Battle of Moribe.:216 By convincing Saitō retainers to abandon their incompetent and foolish master, Nobunaga weakened the Saitō clan significantly, eventually mounting a final attack in 1567 when he captured Inabayama Castle.:278
After taking possession of the castle, Nobunaga changed the name of both the castle and the surrounding town to Gifu. Remains of Nobunaga's residence in Gifu can be found today in Gifu Park. Naming it after the legendary Mount Qi (岐山 Qi in Standard Chinese) in China, 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 "All the world by force of arms" or "Rule the Empire by Force".:278
In 1568, Ashikaga Yoshiaki went to Gifu to ask Nobunaga to start a campaign toward Kyoto. Yoshiaki was the brother of the murdered thirteenth shōgun of the Ashikaga shogunate, Yoshiteru, and wanted revenge against the killers who had already set up a puppet shōgun, Ashikaga Yoshihide. Nobunaga agreed to install Yoshiaki as the new shōgun and, grasping the opportunity to enter Kyoto, started his campaign. An obstacle in southern Ōmi Province was the Rokkaku clan. Led by Rokkaku Yoshikata, the clan refused to recognize Yoshiaki as shōgun and was ready to go to war. In response, Nobunaga launched a rapid attack, driving the Rokkaku clan out of their castles.:278–79
On 9 Nov. 1568, Nobunaga entered Kyoto. Yoshiaki was made the 15th shōgun of the Ashikaga shogunate. However, Nobunaga refused any appointment from Yoshiaki, and their relationship grew difficult, though Nobunaga showed the Emperor great respect.:279-281
The Asakura clan was particularly disdainful of the Oda clan's increasing power. Furthermore, Asakura Yoshikage had also protected Ashikaga Yoshiaki, but had not been willing to march toward Kyoto.:281
When Nobunaga launched a campaign into the Asakura clan's domain, Azai Nagamasa, to whom Oichi was married, broke the alliance with Oda to honor 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, Tokugawa Ieyasu joined forces with Nobunaga and defeated the combined forces of the Asakura and Azai clans.:282
The Enryaku-ji monastery on Mt. Hiei, with its sōhei (warrior monks) of the Tendai school who aided the anti-Nobunaga group by helping Azai-Asakura alliance, was an issue for Nobunaga since the monastery was so close to his base of power. Nobunaga attacked Enryaku-ji and razed it in October 1571, killing "monks, laymen, women and children" in the process. The whole mountainside was a great slaughterhouse, and the sight was one of unbearable horror.":284
During the siege of Nagashima, Nobunaga inflicted tremendous losses to the Ikkō-ikki resistance who opposed samurai rule. The siege finally ended when Nobunaga surrounded the enemy complex and set fire to it, killing tens of thousands.:221–25
One of the strongest rulers in the anti-Nobunaga alliance was Takeda Shingen, in spite of his generally peaceful relationship and a nominal alliance with the Oda clan. In 1572, at the urgings of the shōgun, Shingen decided to make a drive for the capital starting with invading Tokugawa territory. Tied down on the western front, Nobunaga sent lackluster aid to Ieyasu, who suffered defeat at the Battle of Mikatagahara in 1573. However, after the battle, Tokugawa's forces launched night raids and convinced Takeda of an imminent counter-attack, thus saving the vulnerable Tokugawa with the bluff. This would play a pivotal role in Tokugawa's philosophy of strategic patience in his campaigns with Oda Nobunaga. Shortly thereafter, the Takeda forces were neutralized after Shingen died from throat cancer in April 1573.:153–56
This was a relief for Nobunaga because he could now focus on Yoshiaki, who had openly declared hostility more than once, despite the imperial court's intervention. Nobunaga was able to defeat Yoshiaki's forces and send him into exile, bringing the Ashikaga shogunate to an end in the same year. Also in 1573, Nobunaga successfully destroyed Asakura and Asai, driving them both to suicide.:156:281,285-286
At the decisive Battle of Nagashino, the combined forces of Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu devastated the Takeda clan with the strategic use of arquebuses. Nobunaga compensated for the arquebus's slow reloading time by arranging the arquebusiers in three lines, firing in rotation. From there, Nobunaga continued his expansion, sending Akechi Mitsuhide to pacify Tanba Province before advancing upon the Mori:287,306
In 1574 Nobunaga became Gondainagon and Ukon'etaishō. By 1576 he was given the title of Minister of the Right (Udaijin). The Oda clan's siege of Ishiyama Hongan-ji in Osaka made some progress, but the Mori clan of the Chūgoku region broke the naval blockade and started sending supplies into the strongly fortified complex by sea. As a result, in 1577, Hashiba Hideyoshi was ordered to confront the warrior monks at Negoroji.:288-289:228
However, Uesugi Kenshin, rival of Takeda Shingen and Oda, clashed with Oda during the Battle of Tedorigawa. The result was a decisive Uesugi victory. However, Kenshin's sudden death in 1578, ended his movement south.:12-13,228,230:288
Nobunaga forced the Ishiyama Hongan-ji to surrender in 1580, employed the only Samurai of African origin Yasuke as one of his retainers in 1581 and destroyed the Takeda clan in 1582. Nobunaga's administration was at its height of power and he was about to launch invasions into Echigo Province and Shikoku.
In 1582, Nobunaga's former sandal bearer Hashiba Hideyoshi invaded Bitchū Province, laying siege to Takamatsu Castle. The castle was vital to the Mori clan, and losing it would have left the Mori home domain vulnerable. Led by Mōri Terumoto, reinforcements arrived, prompting Hideyoshi to ask for reinforcements from Nobunaga. Nobunaga promptly ordered his leading generals to prepare their armies, the overall expedition to be led by Nobunaga.:241:307a
Mitsuhide chose that time to attack. On June 21, 1582, Mitsuhide took a unit of his men and surrounded the Honnō-ji while sending another unit of Akechi troops to assault Myōkaku-ji, initiating a full coup d'état. At Honnō-ji, Nobunaga's small entourage was soon overwhelmed and, as the Akechi troops closed in on the burning temple where Nobunaga had been residing, he decided to commit seppuku in one of the inner rooms. His son Nobutada was then killed.:307-308
The cause of Mitsuhide's "betrayal" is controversial. It has been proposed that Mitsuhide may have heard a rumor that Nobunaga would transfer Mitsuhide's fief to the page, Mōri Ranmaru, with whom Nobunaga is alleged to have been in a ritualized homosexual relationship, a form of patronage, known as shudō.
Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu are three men credited with the unification of Japan. All three were born within 8 years of each other (1534 to 1542), started their careers as samurai and finished them as statesmen. Nobunaga inherited his father's domain at the age of 17, and quickly gained control of Owari province through gekokujo. Hideyoshi started his career in Nobunaga's army as an ashigaru, but quickly rose up through the ranks as a samurai. Ieyasu initially fought against Nobunaga, but later joined his army. :142
Militarily, Nobunaga changed the way war was fought in Japan. His matchlock armed foot soldiers displaced mounted soldiers armed with bow and sword. He built iron plated warships and imported saltpeter and lead for manufacturing gunpowder and bullets respectively, while also manufacturing artillery. His ashigaru foot soldiers were trained and disciplined for mass movements, which replaced hand-to-hand fighting tactics. They wore distinctive uniforms which fostered esprit de corps. He was ruthless and cruel in battle, pursuing fugitives without compassion. Through wanton slaughter, he became the ruler of 20 provinces.:309-310
After consolidating military power in provinces he came to dominate, starting with Owari and Mino, Nobunaga implemented a plan for economic development. This included the declaration of free markets (rakuichi), the breaking of trade monopolies, and providing for open guilds (rakuza). Nobunaga instituted rakuichi rakuza (楽市楽座) policies as a way to stimulate business and the overall economy through the use of a free market system. These policies abolished and prohibited monopolies and opened once closed and privileged unions, associations and guilds, which he saw as impediments to commerce. Even though these policies provided a major boost to the economy, it was still heavily dependent on daimyōs' support. Copies of his original proclamations can be found in Entoku-ji in the city of Gifu.:300
Nobunaga initiated policies for civil administration, which included currency regulations, construction of roads and bridges. This included setting standards for the road widths and planting trees along roadsides. This was to ease transport of soldiers and war material in addition to commerce. In general, Nobunaga thought in terms of "unifying factors," in the words of George Sansom.:300-302
Nobunaga initiated a period in Japanese art history known as Fushimi, or the Azuchi-Momoyama period, in reference to the area south of Kyoto. He built extensive gardens and castles which were themselves great works of art. Azuchi Castle included a 7 storey Tenshukaku, which included a treasury filled with gold and precious objects. Works of art included paintings on movable screens (byobu), sliding doors (fusuma), and walls by Kanō Eitoku. During this time, Nobunaga's tea master Sen no Rikyū established key elements of the Japanese tea ceremony.:380-382
Additionally, Nobunaga was very interested in European culture which was still very new to Japan. He collected pieces of Western art as well as arms and armor, and 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 and supported the establishment of the first Christian church in Kyoto in 1576, although he never converted to Christianity.
Depending upon the source, Oda Nobunaga and the entire Oda clan are descendents of either the Fujiwara clan or the Taira clan (specifically, Taira no Shigemori's branch). His lineage can be directly traced to his great-great-grandfather, Oda Hisanaga, who was followed by Oda Toshisada, Oda Nobusada, Oda Nobuhide, and Nobunaga himself.
Nobunaga was the eldest legitimate son of Nobuhide, a minor warlord from Owari Province, and Tsuchida Gozen, who was also the mother to three of his brothers (Nobuyuki, Nobukane, and Hidetaka) and two of his sisters (Oinu and Oichi).
Nobunaga married Nōhime, the daughter of Saitō Dōsan, as a matter of political strategy; however, she was unable to give birth to children and was considered to be barren. It was his concubines Kitsuno and Lady Saka who bore his children. Kitsuno gave birth to Nobunaga's eldest son, Nobutada. Nobutada's son Hidenobu became ruler of the Oda clan after the deaths of Nobunaga and Nobutada. His son Oda Nobuhide was a Christian, and took the baptismal name Peter; he was adopted by Toyotomi Hideyoshi and commissioned chamberlain.
One of Nobunaga's younger sisters, Oichi, gave birth to three daughters. These three nieces of Nobunaga became involved with important historical figures. Chacha (also known as Lady Yodo), the eldest, became the mistress of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. O-Hatsu married Kyōgoku Takatsugu. The youngest, O-go, married the son of Tokugawa Ieyasu, Tokugawa Hidetada (the second shōgun of the Tokugawa shogunate). O-go's daughter Senhime married her cousin Toyotomi Hideyori, Lady Yodo's son.
Nobunaga's nephew was Tsuda Nobuzumi, the son of Nobuyuki. Nobusumi married Akechi Mitsuhide's daughter, and was killed after the Honnō-ji coup by Nobunaga's third son, Nobutaka, who suspected him of being involved in the plot.
Nobunaga's granddaughter Oyu no Kata, by his son Oda Nobuyoshi, married Tokugawa Tadanaga.
Nobunari Oda, a retired figure skater, claims to be a 17th generation direct descendant of Nobunaga. The ex-monk celebrity Mudō Oda also claims descent from the Sengoku period warlord, but his claims have not been verified.
Nobunaga appears frequently within fiction and continues to be portrayed in many different anime, manga, video games, and cinematic films. Many depictions show him as villainous or even demonic in nature, though some portray him in a more positive light. The latter type of works include Akira Kurosawa's film Kagemusha, which portrays Nobunaga as energetic, athletic and respectful towards his enemies. The film Goemon portrays him as a saintly mentor of Ishikawa Goemon. Nobunaga is a central character in Eiji Yoshikawa's historical novel Taiko Ki, where he is a firm but benevolent lord. Nobunaga is also portrayed in a heroic light in some video games such as Kessen III, Ninja Gaiden II, and the Warriors Orochi series.. While in the anime series "Nobunaga no Shinobi" Nobunaga is portrayed as a kind person as well as having a major sweet tooth.
By contrast, the novel and anime series Yōtōden portrays Nobunaga as a literal demon in addition to a power-mad warlord. In the novel The Samurai's Tale by Erik Christian Haugaard, he is portrayed as an antagonist "known for his merciless cruelty". He is portrayed as evil or megalomaniacal in some anime and manga series including Samurai Deeper Kyo and Flame of Recca. Nobunaga is portrayed as evil, villainous, bloodthirsty, and/or demonic in many video games such as Ninja Master's, Sengoku, Maplestory, Inindo: Way of the Ninja and Atlantica Online, and the video game series Onimusha, Samurai Warriors, Sengoku Basara (and its anime adaptation), and Soulcalibur.
Nobunaga has been portrayed numerous times in a more neutral or historic framework, especially in the Taiga dramas shown on television in Japan. Oda Nobunaga appears in the manga series Tail of the Moon, Kacchū no Senshi Gamu, and Tsuji Kunio's historical fiction The Signore: Shogun of the Warring States. Historical representations in video games (mostly Western-made strategy titles) include Shogun: Total War, Total War: Shogun 2, Throne of Darkness, the eponymous Nobunaga's Ambition series, as well as Civilization V and Age of Empires II: The Conquerors. Kamenashi Kazuya of the Japanese pop group KAT-TUN wrote and performed a song titled "1582" which is written from the perspective of Mori Ranmaru during the coup at Honnō temple.
Nobunaga has also been portrayed fictively, such as when the figure of Nobunaga influences a story or inspires a characterization. In James Clavell's novel Shōgun, the character Goroda is a pastiche of Nobunaga. In the film Sengoku Jieitai 1549, Nobunaga is killed by time-travellers. Nobunaga also appears as a major character in the eroge Sengoku Rance and is a playable character in Pokémon Conquest, with his partner Pokémon being Hydreigon, Rayquaza and Zekrom. In the anime Sengoku Otome: Momoiro Paradox, in Sengoku Collection, and the light novel and anime series The Ambition of Oda Nobuna, he is depicted as a female character. He is the main character of the stage action and anime adaptation of Nobunaga the Fool. In Kouta Hirano's Drifters, Nobunaga is sent to another world to fight against other historical figures and displays equal parts tactical brilliance and gleeful brutality. In the 2014 anime Nobunaga Concerto, and its 2015 film adaptation, he is the subject of a complex plot involving time travel and alternate history.
Lord Oda Nobunaga – Lord Takeda Shingen's rival and enemy, well known for his merciless cruelty