Oda Nobunaga and the Unification of Japan

Oda Nobunaga was a man greatly known to be ruthless and revolutionary. He started the movement that changed the nation by taking control of each individual territories. He is known for his skills in conquering the nation and pacifying his enemies. Though he did not live to see his ambitions come to fruition, it was through his leadership and skills that the Japan we know today was formed.

The Man Behind the Armor: The Definitive Guide to the Life and Death of Oda Nobunaga

The birth of Oda Nobunaga was traced back to 1534, during the time of great turmoil. This was the era of Japan where in warlords ruled individual territories and there was no nation to speak of. It is amazing to think that in just a short time after his death, the nation was unified. The period of turmoil that he was born into was called the Sengoku Jidai, which translates as the Warring Period. This was an area that was filled with bloodshed and political turmoil that lasted for about 200 years, starting in the mid-1400’s until the start of the 1600’s.

Oda Nobunaga was born into the ruling class. As the son of a noble and warlord, Oda Nobuhide, Oda Nobunaga was given important government positions that befitted a man of his stature. His father ruled one of eight districts of the Owari Provinces. Oda Nobuhide spent his entire life in constant battles in attempts to attack or defend against neighboring factions. Nohime, which translates to lady princess, was wed to Nobunaga during a truce between Nobuhide and Saito Dosan.It was in the year 1551 that Oda Nobuhide died.

Oda Nobunaga’s personality in his earlier years was described to be peculiar. His odd behavior and conduct gave him the title of Owari no Outsuke, which roughly translates to the fool of Owari. It is said that he had very little joy in keeping tradition and following social norms. He would often associate himself with the lower caste of society such as peasants and commoners. When he was 16 years old, during his father’s funeral, Nobunaga chose to act in a bizarre and unspeakable manner. During a time when the rules of society were to be strictly observed, Oda Nobunaga chose to act in a disrespectful, even sacrilegious, manner. Examples of his actions were tossing ceremonial incense at his father’s shrine. His actions during the funeral caused a rift in his supporters. Some turned against him and this caused a great dispute within the family. Hirate Masahide, a man who was close to Oda Nobuhide, had even committed ritual suicide, called seppuku, in disapproval of Oda Nobunaga’s actions. Masahide was a samurai who closely served the Oda family. His suicide had a great effect on Oda Nobunaga’s life. In Nobunaga’s later years, he built a temple in memory of Masahide.

The death of his father forced Oda Nobunaga into great political and military struggle. It was the loss of a leader that forced Nobunaga to assert his birthright as the new head of their territory. Once the head of a clan has passed, it is the general rule that the next in line will head the family but Oda Nobutomo, the uncle of Nobunaga, had claimed the position. Nobunaga was able to claim his rightful place at the top by enlisting aid from other members of the clan. Together they were able to bring down Oda Nobutomo. Another problem arose when his younger brother, Oda Nobuyuki, had positioned himself with rival factions. This conflict for power had lasted for several years, however, Oda Nobunaga had won and solidified his reign in the end. This was the beginning of his conquest to unify Japan.

One of the earliest rival clans of Oda Nobunaga was the Imagawa family, from the Suruga Province. This family was lead by Imagawa Yoshimoto and in 1560, he leads an army of 2500 soldiers to battle the Oda clan. In addition, this clan was also aided by the Matsudaira clan and together they landed at the border of the Oda territory in Owari. This army was formed in support of the failing Ashikaga Shogunate, the term used for the ruler or king of the nation. With only 3000 soldiers, Oda Nobunaga decided to attack this massive force. This plan was not well received by his advisors as they wanted to take a defensive position or to surrender. Oda Nobunaga was not a man to be trifled with and he chose this battle to show it. He ordered his forces to create dummies that, when seen from a distance, looked like their forces were more than it actually was. Then he positioned his forces to assault the army that was encamped in a tight space. The Oda forces also had the weather on their side as a great thunderstorm had begun. Under the guise of the rain, the Oda clansmen surprised their foes and easily defeated them. This victory had greatly increased the power and support that Oda Nobunaga had and it left his major enemies in disarray. In the wake of the battle, an alliance was formed between the Oda and Matsudaira clans as well as Takeda Shingen, leader of the Shingen clan.

The next conquest of the Oda clan would be the destruction of the Saito clan of the Mino province. This was an easier win for the Oda forces as the recent death of the Saito clan’s leader left them with Saito Tatsuoki as their head. Tatsuoki was reported to be unfit for the position due to his ineffectiveness and weakness. It was during the Siege of Inabayama Castle in 1567 that Nobunaga had conquered the Saito clan and claimed more territory for himself. His campaign was ruthless and unending as he would gain province after province through force. Some of his opponents chose to battle him but some also chose to merely surrender. This had even brought about the famous Nobunaga seal called the Tenka Fubu, which translates to all the world by force of arms. In his entering of Kyoto, he had famously helped bring up the Ashikaga shogunate by supporting the son of Ashikaga Yoshiharu as well as bring it down by ousting Ashikaga Yoshiaki.

Oda Nobunaga did not only have great skill in war tactics, he was also seen as a great political leader as he was able to gain numerous allies and was able to pacify some regions without a battle.

Oda Nobunaga died without seeing the unification of Japan. By his death, he had about half of the nation under one rule. There are many citations about his death. A theory of his death states that he was betrayed by Akechi Mitsuhide. This betrayal caused him to commit ritual suicide. Another account of his death states that Mitsuhide had formed a coup d'etat against Nobunaga. This force took Nobunaga by surprise and he took his own life before he was captured in order to avoid the dishonor. Another theory states that he died in the battle that ensued from the coup d’etat.

How Oda Nobunaga Changed the Fate of Japan

Even though the exact events that took place during his death are shrouded in mystery, the fact remains that he is one of Japan’s most important figures in history. He, along with Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu, had united Japan. Though this was a struggle covered in blood, this unification caused the end of feudalism in Japan and a unifying period lasted for two centuries.

In fact, even to this day, Nobunaga is seen as the most influential man in Japan throughout history. A festival in Kyoto takes place during the month of October to commemorate the day Nobunaga had brought his forces to the city. Participants of the festival dress in costumes mimicking the armor of the times and re-enact the battles that Nobunaga headed.

Oda Nobunaga in Popular Culture: Anime, Movies, Games, and Literature

Oda Nobunaga frequently appears in modern media. His character is seen throughout anime, manga, games, tv shows, and movies. Typical depictions of his character are evil and villainous because of his notoriety of being cruel. The anime show called Yotoden shows Oda Nobunaga as a demonic warlord who is mad for power. Erik Christian Haugaard chose Nobunaga to be a merciless and cruel antagonist of his novel called The Samurai’s Tale. Many anime shows also depict him as a megalomaniac and villainous. The most popular of these shows are Flame of Recca and Samurai Deeper Kyo. He is also seen in a negative light throughout various video games such as Onimusha, Samurai Warriors, Maplestory, and Soulcalibur.

There are some works that have portrayed him in a better light. In a film by the famous Akira Kurosawa, called Kagemusha, Oda Nobunaga is depicted as an energetic, athletic, and respectful warrior. In the film Goemon, Oda Nobunaga is depicted as a saintly mentor to the film’s protagonist. In the novel Taiko Ki, written by Eiji Yoshikawa, he is shown to be a benevolent and firm lord. In the video games Ninja Gaiden, Warriors Orochi, and Kessen, Oda Nobunaga is seen as a heroic figure.

The Legacy of Oda Nobunaga: What He Left Japan and His Quotes

It is prudent to also look at Nobunaga’s contributions to Japan outside of his unification. Throughout his campaign, he had gained a massive amount of riches. As a show of his power and superiority, he had supported the enrichment of the arts. Some of his contributions would be the building of beautiful gardens and castles. The greatest castle in the history of Japan, the Azuchi castle, was built by him. It was covered with gold and adorn with numerous statues and paintings. He also supported the establishment of the Japanese tea ceremony. It was created by one of his subjects, Sen no Rikyu. Nobunaga helped popularize this as he frequently used it when talking business and politics. The modern kabuki was formed during the early Edo period.

Nobunaga also had a great interest in western culture. He collected numerous art from the western world as well as armor and weapons. He is among the very few first Japanese to wear European clothes.

He also had greatly supported the Jesuit missionaries that came to Japan and helped them establish the first Christian Church in Kyoto. He had used them as a political tool and point of innovation as they brought in new ideologies and brought in more supporters. He understood how the elites of Buddhism at the time were abusing their power. This was a time that Christianity was spreading throughout the country and this was not appreciated by the Buddhist elites who wanted to stay in power. This time saw a period of bloodshed for the early Japanese Christians and Oda Nobunaga ushered in a time of peaceful worship for them. This was unprecedented at the time and showed how much of a visionary this man was, especially considering that Japan would soon hold itself in isolation.

There are two quotes that are commonly associated to Oda Nobunaga and both show how ruthless and tactical he was as a leader. The first would be his saying “Without destruction, there is no creation...there is no change.” This shows how Nobunaga had always resorted to radical change as a way to usher in a new beginning for society. His second most famous quote is “If the cuckoo does not sing, kill it.” This quote shows his more ruthless side as he considered the efficiency and output of everything as the most valuable aspect.

After 400 years of his passing, Oda Nobunaga’s legacy still lives on in modern Japan. From his religious open-mindedness to his economic reforms, Oda Nobunaga had introduced many concepts that were foreign yet revolutionary to the Japanese people of the time. Through the various ways the nation commemorates his efforts to his numerous appearances in media, Oda Nobunaga shows the world that through ingenuity, forward thinking, and innovation even a fractured country like Japan can be united.