Oda Nobunaga

116

Oda Nobunaga : biography

June 23, 1534 – June 21, 1582

Also in 1573, Nobunaga successfully destroyed the Asakura and Azai clans, leading Azai Nagamasa to send Oichi back to Nobunaga and commit suicide. With Nagashima’s destruction in 1574, the only threat to Nobunaga was the Takeda clan, now led by Takeda Katsuyori.

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’ slow reloading time by arranging the arquebusiers in three lines. After each line fired, it would duck and reload as the next line fired. The bullets were able to pierce the Takeda cavalry armor, who were pushed back and killed by incoming fire. From there, Nobunaga continued his expansion, sending Shibata Katsuie and Maeda Toshiie to the north and Akechi Mitsuhide to Tamba Province.

Japan around 1582. The areas in purple show the areas controlled by the Oda in 1560, and the grey area were the territory Nobunaga controlled at the time of his death in 1582

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 expand west to confront the Mori clan.

However, Uesugi Kenshin, said to be the greatest general of his time since the demise of Takeda Shingen, took part in the second anti-Nobunaga alliance. Following his conquest of neighboring forces, the two sides clashed during the Battle of Tedorigawa which resulted in a decisive Uesugi victory. It was around this time that Uesugi forces began preparations to march on Kyoto.

Due to his defeat, Nobunaga’s expansion in Noto, Kaga, and Etchū Province area stagnated. But Kenshin, who prepared to move his armies again after the battle, died from a possible cerebral hemorrhage before moving them. After Kenshin’s death and much confusion among his successors, Nobunaga started his campaign again on this area.

Nobunaga forced the Ishiyama Hongan-ji to surrender in 1580 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.

Incident at Honnō-ji and death

Grave of Oda Nobunaga at [[Mount Kōya, Wakayama Prefecture]]

In 1582, Nobunaga’s former sandal bearer Hashiba Hideyoshi invaded Bichu Province, laying siege to Takamatsu Castle. However, the castle was vital to the Mori clan, and losing it would leave the Mori home domain vulnerable. Led by Mōri Terumoto, reinforcements arrived outside Takamatsu Castle, and the two sides came to a standstill. Hashiba asked for reinforcements from Nobunaga.

It has often been argued that Hideyoshi had no need for reinforcements, but asked Nobunaga anyway for various reasons. Most believe that Hideyoshi, envied and hated by fellow generals for his swift rise from a lowly footman to a top general under Oda Nobunaga, wanted to give the credit for taking Takamatsu to Nobunaga so as to humble himself in front of other Oda vassals.

In any case, Nobunaga ordered Niwa Nagahide to prepare for an invasion of Shikoku, and Akechi Mitsuhide to assist Hideyoshi. En route to Chūgoku region, Nobunaga stayed at Honnō-ji, a temple in Kyoto. Since Nobunaga would not expect an attack in the middle of his firmly controlled territories, he was guarded by only a few dozen personal servants and bodyguards. His son Nobutada stayed at Myōkaku-ji, a temple on the grounds of Nijō Palace, the forerunner to Nijō Castle.

Mitsuhide chose that time to take 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. Unknown to Nobunaga, his son Nobutada died in the fighting before the temple where he was staying. At Honnō-ji, only his young page, Mori Ranmaru, remained at his master’s side; he was still in his teens. Ranmaru’s loyalty and devotion to his lord were widely known and praised during the Edo period. He attended to Nobunaga as he sought a moment of peace to carry out his last act, then Ranmaru likewise killed himself in the same way.

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, Mori Ranmaru, with whom Nobunaga is alleged to have been in a ritualized homosexual relationship, a form of patronage, known as shudō. Other motives include revenge for Nobunaga’s numerous insults and derisive treatment of Mitsuhide, or Mitsuhide’s jealousy as Nobunaga had shown greater favor toward another vassal, Hashiba Hideyoshi. Another possible motive is for revenge as Akechi Mitsuhide’s mother (or perhaps aunt) was killed because Nobunaga had gone against a peace treaty that he had previously agreed to.

In 1579, Nobunaga captured Yakami Castle from Hatano Hideharu by promising Hideharu peace terms. This accomplished Mitsuhide’s goal, although Nobunaga betrayed the peace agreement and had Hideharu executed. According to several stories, this displeased the Hatano family, and a short while later several of Hideharu’s retainers murdered Akechi Mitsuhide’s mother (or aunt). The situation was fueled through several public insults Nobunaga had directed at Mitsuhide that even drew the attention of some Western observers. However, the reason Mitsuhide killed Nobunaga at the Incident at Honnōji on June 21, 1582 (Japanese: 6th month 2nd day) is not known.

Just eleven days after the coup at Honnō-ji, Mitsuhide was killed at the Battle of Yamazaki and his army was defeated by Hashiba Hideyoshi, who eventually became heir to Nobunaga’s legacy. He is more widely known as Toyotomi Hideyoshi. At the time of Nobunaga’s death, he was in control of more than half of the provinces in Japan, the majority of which were in the Kyoto region.