The Rise and Fall of the Powerful Samurai Warlord, Oda Nobunaga

  • CULTURE
  • Oda Nobunaga is one of the most prominent figures in the history of Japan. In fact, millennials today still recognize his contributions to the unification of Japan. In one of the segments of the defunct Japanese TV show called Cartoon-KATTUN, two of the hosts, i.e. Kamenashi Kazuya and Jin Akanishi have expressed their admiration to the Oda Nobunaga and even cited that several Japanese of their generation share their sentiments.

    Early Life

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    Born on June 23, 1534, in Owari with a childhood name Kipposhi, Oda Nobunaga is the second son of Oda Nobuhide, a deputy shugo (military governor) who owns a vast land in the province of Owari. However, it still remains a big debate until today whether Nobunaga was born in the castle of Nagoya. Also, because of Nobunaga’s eccentric behavior, he was given a nickname Owari no Outsuke or The Big Fool of Owari. Humble as he has always been he still plays with other youth within their area with no regard to his title in the society. When firearms were introduced in Japan, Oda Nobunaga had a penchant for tanegashima firearms.

    Rise to Power

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    As an unexpected death has befallen to the deputy shugo Oda Nobuhide in 1551, Oda Nobunaga’s outrageous behavior during the funeral of his father led to his mentor, Hirate Masahide committing suicide (seppuku). Masahide’s demise later had an impact on Nobunaga and he soon built a temple to honor his master.

    Meanwhile, the Oda clan was divided into many factions. Nobunaga’s uncle, Oda Nobutomo challenged Nobunaga’s position to rule Owari. Upon learning of Nobutomo’s plot to dethrone him, he then sought the help of his uncle Nobumitsu to kill Nobutomo.

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    After successfully eliminating all oppositions in his clan and successfully forging a new alliance with other clans in the Suruga and Mikawa provinces, he then advanced to besiege Kyoto in 1560. Short of armed forces, Nobunaga used a surprise attack against Imagawa Yoshimoto. Hia’s victory over Yoshimoto eventually led to forging a new alliance with Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1561. Together with Tokugawa, they championed several battles in Japan.

    The Battle of Okehazama gives a detailed story of Nobunaga’s victory in Kyoto and the rise of his sandal-bearer, Toyotomi Hideyoshi to power. Other battles that Nobunaga won together with Tokugawa and Hideyoshi include the Siege of Inabayama Castle Saito Tatsuoki in 1561, the battle of Anegawa, Nagashima and the Ishiyama Hongan-ji Siege in 1571, and the Battle of Nagashino in 1572 and 1573. By 1574, Nobunaga will be called kuge (court noble). Later in 1577, he will be awarded the title Minister of the Right (udaijin) which is the third highest position in the imperial court of Japan.

    The Downfall of Nobunaga

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    As Oda Nobunaga became defeated in the Battle of Tedorigawa led by Uesugi Kenshin, his plan to invade Noto, Kaga, and Etchu provinces was put into a halt. However, it was also at that time when he was about to launch a seige to Echigo and Shikoku provinces. In 1582, Hashiba Hideyoshi, one of the most loyal warriors of Oda Nobunaga invaded the Bitchu Province. Hideyoshi was almost successful in taking full control of the Takamatsu Castle which is the seat of power of the Mori clan. However, Mori Terumoto’s reinforcements outside Takamatsu Castle forced both sides into a standstill.

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    Unaware of the assassination plot against him, Oda Nobunaga ordered Niwa Nagahide and Akechi Mitsuhide to prepare for the invasion of Shikoku and assist Hideyoshi. However, Akechi chose to attack Nobunaga instead and sent troops to attack Nobunaga’s son at the Myokaku-jin temple. Overwhelmed by Akechi’s troops and their plans on initiating a coup d’etat, Nobunaga committed suicide by seppuku to save his honor together with his servant Mori Ranmaru with whom he allegedly had a homosexual affair.

    Akechi’s betrayal remains uncertain until today. However, some of the most plausible explanation that drove Akechi’s motivation to kill Nobunaga are: (1) Nobunaga’s insult and derisive treatment to Akechi, (2) Akechi’s jealousy over the greater affection shown towards Hideyoshi, and (3) the peace treaty that Nobunaga broke with other clans leading to the death of his mother. Nobunaga’s death was later avenged by Hideyoshi in the Battle of Yamazaki. Hideyoshi eventually became the heir to Nobunaga’s legacy.

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    Seppuku: The History and the Ritual