Oda Nobunaga


Oda Nobunaga : biography

June 23, 1534 – June 21, 1582

As Nobunaga conquered 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 have been 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 Kanō Eitoku on the inside. During this time, Nobunaga’s subject and tea master Sen no Rikyū established the Japanese tea ceremony which Nobunaga 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, 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,. Shunkoin Temple Organization. Retrieved September 19, 2007. he remained an adamant atheist and never converted to Christianity.Mark Weston, Giants of Japan: the lives of Japan’s greatest men and women (New York: Kodansha International, 1999), 142. During a visit by the Jesuits in March 1581, Nobunaga’s interest was piqued by a slave in the service of a Jesuit inspector of missions, and it was requested that he be left in Nobunaga’s service. This slave, later called by the Japanese name Yasuke, was highly favored by Nobunaga and fought in the final battle at Honnō-ji. During that time, the persecution of Buddhists was motivated mostly by separating politics from religion. Though it was not fully realized under Nobunaga’s rule, he attempted to create a public, rational political authority. The concepts brought up during this change had the potential to radically change society in Japan. The new ideas that came forth were either incorporated into common discourses without changing it fundamentally, built upon at a later time, or opened up new options in the later Tokugawa era that were expanded on.


Militarily, Nobunaga changed the way war was fought in Japan. He developed, implemented, and expanded the use of long pikes, firearms and castle fortifications in accordance with the expanded mass battles of the period. The firearms that were introduced by the Portuguese had allowed the establishment of firearm brigades in the army. Once the two important musket factories in Sakai City and Omi province were conquered, it gave Nobunaga superior firepower over his enemies. Nobunaga 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. Nobunaga’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.

Nobunaga’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.

Nobunaga also instituted 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 daimyos’ support. Copies of his original proclamations can be found in Entoku-ji in the city of Gifu.Gifu City Walking Map. Gifu Lively City Public Corporation, 2007. He also developed tax exemptions and established laws to regulate and ease the borrowing of debt.