Japan’s history is filled with all kinds of twists and turns. This is evident in how there were so many shifts in power throughout almost every period in Japan. Each of those shifts in power has a great story behind them but amongst all the stories of power shifts, there might be none more interesting than the story involving Imagawa Yoshimoto, who was recognized as one of the strongest and influential daimyos in Japan during his time.
The History of Imagawa Yoshimoto’s Ascend to Power and His Appearance in Samurai Warriors
Before learning about the important events in his life, I might be important to see how he started to better understand his character as a person. He fictionally made appearances in the series known as Samurai Warriors wherein he was depicted as a warrior using the weapon kemari. This was far from the truth because in reality, what Imagawa Yoshimoto was known for wasn’t the kemari but his shaving of the eyebrows and blackening of the teeth in the way that the Kyoto nobles used to do it.
Imagawa Yoshimoto was born in the year of 1519 which means that he lived during the Sengoku period of Japan. He was born in Sunpu, which is located in the Suruga Province, and he was the third son of Imagawa Ujichika who was the head of the Imagawa clan at the time. For those who do not now, the Imagawa clan is actually a branch of the Minamoto clan through the Ashikaga clan. The rule of inheriting leadership of a clan back then was to be the firstborn child of the head of a clan. Since Yoshimoto was the 3rd son, he was ineligible to become the head of the clan after his father’s reign.
Because of this, his father sent him to the Zentoku temple to learn the ways of the monk. In his time at the temple, his name was changed to Baigaku Shoho or Sengaku Shoho. He was never bitter about being ineligible to take over the clan and that is a good thing because it shows how it was never in his character to be greedy for power.
Unfortunately, his older brother, known as Ujiteru, suddenly died in the year of 1536. This resulted in an internal conflict within the clan because the death of Ujiteru left the Imagawa clan headless. Naturally, people wanted the power that the position held so Genko, who was the older half-brother of Yoshimoto, tried to obtain heirship to the clan. Yoshimoto decided to fight for his right to take over the clan as well and this divided the clan into two factions. The faction that supported Yoshimoto was saying that he was the rightful heir because his mother was a consort of Ujichika which puts him at an advantage over Genko because, by blood, he was more related.
No reasoning mattered though because an internal war still occurred and it ended with Yoshimoto defeating and killing Genko Etan in the event known as the Hanagura Disturbance. Once he obtained the victory, he changed back his name to Yoshimoto and start to lead the Imagawa clan as the head.
Imagawa Yoshimoto’s Campaigns as the Head of the Clan
If Imagawa Yoshimoto had something going for him, it was definitely his skills in politics and his understanding of connections. Even the best warriors fall in wars because there are so many variables to take in so in a way, being politically smart is a safer and surer way to stay in power. In addition to this, he didn’t need to worry so much about having fighting skills because that what Taigen Sessai gave him and his forces.
Yoshimoto showed off his smarts from the start of his reign as the clan leader by immediately marrying the sister of Takeda Shingen of the Kai Province, who was an heir to the Takeda clan. This marriage cemented the alliance between the Takeda and the Imagawa which meant that their clan got immediately stronger with the first act of Yoshimoto. This also merited the Imagawa clan in other ways because they were also able to eliminate a potential rival for land because the Kai Province is right beside the Suruga Province.
The Hojo clan had always been on good terms with the Imagawa clan but this alliance made the Hojo clan feel uneasy. Because of this, tension built up between the families throughout the years that followed Yoshimoto’s marriage. In the year of 1544, the tension between the Imagawa clan and the Hojo clan finally broke into a war at the Kitsunebashi. It didn’t last though because the Takeda, Hojo, and Imagawa clans had other pressuring matters to attend to aside from fighting with one another. This led to a truce between the three families so they were all able to focus on their other problems.
For the Imagawa clan, their pressuring issue was created by Oda Nobuhide of the Owari Province. While Yoshimoto was busy with the drama with the Hojo clan, Oda Nobuhide was raiding the holdings of the Imagawa clan in the west. You see, the Matsudaira family had grown weak throughout the years and Oda Nobuhide took this as an opportunity to take control of the Mikawa Province. Being the smart man that he was, Yoshimoto knew that the Matsudaira clan needed his help and he used this as leverage to get a hold of Hirotada’s son, the future Tokugawa Ieyasu, to be a hostage of the Suruga Province. The Matsudaira clan obviously agreed and sent young Tokugawa on his way.
With the help of Taigan Sessai in the Battle of Azukizaka, the Imagawa clan come out victorious over the forces of the Oda clan. They were able to capture Oda Nobuhiro but unfortunately, he would be given back to the Oda clan in exchange for young Tokugawa who was intercepted on his way to the Suruga Province. A couple of years after that, particularly in the year of 1551, the death of Oda Nobuhide came and it cleared the path for Yoshimoto to go forth with his yabou or ambition to gain more land westward.
His wife died in the year of 1550 and this was a big deal because it made his relationship with the Hojo clan and the Takeda clan unstable. With the use of his skills as an excellent negotiator though, he was able to arrange marriages between all three families throughout the years of 1552 to 1554. By the year of 1554, all three families were officially related in some way and they all enjoyed these powerful marital relations.
How Oda Nobunaga Brought Death upon Imagawa Yoshimoto
Yoshimoto tasted a lot of victories after the victory of the Oda clan and solidifying his relations with his former rivals. He continuously worked to expand his influence because he wanted to be shogun of Japan. In the year of 1557, he lost his army commander as Sessai passed away but he never doubted of waivered despite this huge loss for them because they had the talents of a young Tokugawa Ieyasu to fill the hole created by the demise of Taigen.
By the year of 1560, Yoshimoto was confident enough to overthrow the forces of Oda Nobunaga once and for all. He called upon all his forces in the Suruga and Mikawa provinces to depart for the Owari Province and attack the Oda clan head on. The forces of Yoshimoto easily broke through the first of Oda’s forts but they grew too confident in these moments.
After taking the first fort, Yoshimoto told his forces that they could rest in Dengakuhazama which was near Okehazama. They drank and enjoyed the temporary victory they gained but little did they know that that would be the last celebration they would ever enjoy. Oda Nobunaga’s forces executed a sneak attack after the massive thunderstorm that brewed the night of Yoshimoto’s forces’ celebration. The Imagawa forces were caught completely off guard and this led to the scattering of their forces once the sneak attack happened. They easily got to Yoshimoto and once he was struck down, Yoshimoto’s forces immediately retreated. The death of Yoshimoto left Imagawa Ujizane, his son, to take over as the head of the Imagawa clan. Sadly, there wouldn’t be an Imagawa clan soon after because their territories were obtained by the Tokugawa and the Takeda clan.
It is a sad ending because Yoshimoto was so close to attaining his yabou or ambition to take control of the west and eventually become shogun but his death ended that possibility along with the legacy of his entire clan. Despite this major loss though, he is still seen in Japanese history as one of the best leaders there were and many leaders that followed him also emanated his approach to connections and his tactics for leadership and control. Because of this, he is still seen in the best light anybody could ever be remembered in and being remembered in that way is a great consolation regardless of what went down in the history books. Kudos to him for leaving such a great mark in Japanese history.