To be a daimyo during the earlier periods in Japan, you had to be a man of great power and great character. With this being the standard for the type of men who become daimyos, you can almost be sure that their lives are worth learning about because of all the great values and lessons you can learn from their actions and the different events in their lives. Amongst all the daimyos that you can learn something from, the life of Asai Nagamasa has to be one of the most intriguing ones because of what he was able to accomplish during his time and how destiny played a huge part in determining what path Asai Nagamasa’s life would go down upon.
How Asai Nagamasa Rose To Power
Before getting into the details, you should first know that there are discrepancies with regards to how Asai Nagamasa’s name was spelled because there are some sources that say his name is “Azai Nagamasa” instead of “Asai Nagasama”. They indeed one and the same so there is no need to worry or stress about this minor detail. The northern province of Omi where Ashikaga Yoshiharu retreated in the latter part of his life also happens to be where Asai Nagamasa was born in the year of 1545, specifically in the Odani Castle. His mother’s name was Ono dono. His father, Asai Hisamasa, was already the second head of the Azai clan during this time because of the early demise of his father and Nagamasa’s grandfather, Azai Sukemasa.
Nagamasa’s grandfather, aside from being the first head of their clan, was an astounding leader. He really was able to bring their clan together as well as lead them into better places and positions based on power and influence. Unfortunately, Nagamasa’s father, Hisamasa, was not as capable a leader as his grandfather and this lead to the loss of several lands and castles they used to own to people like the Rokkaku, who were the Asai clan’s previous overlords. These losses kept coming for the Asai clan and in the fall of Futo in the year of 1560, Hisamasa had already been pushed to the point wherein he considered submitting to the Rokkaku. No one could have ever expected such a quick downfall of a clan considering that Hisamasa was only the second head of their clan and under his reign, the Asai clan was practically on the edge of being dissolved.
In cases like these, the usual remedy is to have their families bonded by a marriage to cement an alliance or a treaty and this is why Nagamasa was sent to the Rokkaku clan to marry a girl from their side but Nagamasa backed out and returned home to Odani. This would turn out to be a great move by Nagamasa because while he was at the arrangements for his supposed marriage, Hisamasa’s retainers had successfully convinced Hisamasa to step down from power in favor of Nagamasa. This is how Nagamasa became the 3rd head of the Asai clan at the age of 15. It would be interesting to note that despite his father’s withdrawal from the clan’s leadership, Hisamasa was still able to preserve his influence over some important clan members throughout his son’s reign.
It was like everything that happened was meant to happen because, after that, everything just fell into place as he quickly recaptured the Futo Castle in the year of 1561. He showed in prowess in battle with his victory against the Rokkaku army in the legendary Battle of Norada. He then made a move against the Saito in Mino but the Rokkaku used this opportunity to attack the Sawayama Castle in Omi. Luckily, he made the right call dispatching Isono Kazumasa along with a support team to make sure that the castle was not lost. After this incident, Oda Nobunaga, the father of Oda Nobukatsu, and Asai Nagamasa found common ground and agreed to an alliance between their clans. This was sealed with Nagamasa’s marriage to Nobunaga’s sister, Oichi. This happened in the year of 1564.
The Drama between Asai Nagamasa and Oda Nobunaga
After the alliance had been made, there were truly peaceful times between these two clans. Sadly, Nobunaga’s ambition was one that inevitably involved constant war so eventually, particularly in the year of 1570, he picked a fight that would strain their alliance with each other to the limit. Nobunaga had chosen to bring war upon the Asakura of Echizen. This would have never been a problem in any other occasion but the Asakura of Echizen were also allies of the Asai clan and their alliance had been standing strong for far longer than the Asai’s alliance with the Oda clan.
Asai Nagamasa, being the great and brilliant leader that he was, knew that getting involved in the situation would be very dangerous waters because he would potentially be caught in between since he had a foot in each of their houses. With this being said, he wanted to stay neutral until the tension between Nobunaga and the Asakura settled down enough to make peace. Unfortunately, his father, Hisamasa, thought otherwise and because of the existing influence he still had over the clan, he was able to make it so that some Asai troops aided the troops of the Asakura in battle. This was a mistake made by his father and it ultimately ensured the end for their clan because, in one swift move, the Asai lost a powerful ally and made an incredibly formidable enemy in the Oda clan.
As one can expect, this obviously didn’t sit well with Oda Nobunaga. It was an act of betrayal in his eyes and he was even forced to withdraw from battle because of it. Asai Nagamasa was suddenly in a war with Nobunaga and he was on the top of Nobunaga’s list. Alongside Tokugawa Ieyasu, Nobunaga orchestrated strikes to weakened and reduce the area of Odani in the summer of 1570. The Asakura clan immediately repaid their debt to the Asai clan by sending troops to support them for the said attack on Odani but even with the aid of the Asakura, the victor for the battle that would be known as the Battle of Anegawa was Nobunaga.
Nagamasa lost important soldiers in that battle like Endo Naotsune so he was motivated to even the score as soon as possible. This is why in the summer of that same year, he attacked Otsu and were able to take out Nobunaga’s younger brother. Nobunaga certainly tried to get them back for that but with the clans of Rokkaku, Ashikaga, and Enryakuji monks backing the clan of Asai, Nobunaga’s attempts in the years of 1571 and 1572 easily ended in defeats.
The tides changed with the passing of Oda Nobunaga’s most formidable enemy who was Takeda Shingen. Because of this, Oda Nobunaga was able to focus all his attention on the Asai and Asakura clans. In 1573, he attacked the Sawayama Castle. Isono Kazumasa was able to last a couple of months but in the end, Nobunaga’s full force was too much to handle and he was forced to surrender. He then lured the Asakura army out and planned an ambush on them before they could even get near Asai Nagamasa.
It was at this moment that he knew that his life was about to end and what he did showed people just how honorable this man was truly was. He returned Oichi, his wife who was also Nobunaga’s sister, to Nobunaga along with his three daughters to ensure their lives and their safety. Afterward, he decided that if he was going to die, it would be by his own hands and not of a soldier's doing so he committed the act of seppuku. He was joined by his father, Hisamasa, in this act. For those who do not know, the act of seppuku is seen as the honorable way to die as a samurai because it shows that one does not fear death. From the samurai's perspective, it shows bravery because instead of dying by the hand of your opponent or being held captive or enslaved, you chose to take your life so that you save yourself from any other crazy thing they might to do your or your body once your opponents get you.
How Asai Nagamasa’s Armor and Weapons were depicted in Games
All the victories that he accumulated throughout his life have made him recognized as a formidable warrior in Japanese history. Because of this, Asai Nagamasa has been used as a character in several video games like the PC game known as “Shogun: Total War” and the gaming series known as the Samurai Warriors. He was also used as an NPC in the video game series called “Sengoku Basara 2” which was a game that also made use of Oichi, his wife. In addition to this, he was also an essential character in the game called “Warriors Orochi” as well as the basis for the protagonist in the game called “Pokemon Conquest”.
From game to game, his background story is usually the same. He is usually depicted as a loving man who fought for justice. This is fitting because this was really how he was in real life. In these games, he was shown to be in different kinds of armors. In some games, his armor would seem metallic and his helmet would have horns like a beetle. In other games, he is illustrated wearing noble clothing with a huge lance and shield at hand. There are also some games wherein instead of a lance, he was described to be a warrior that used a long sword along with the shield. His weapons and fighting style might change from one game to another but at least the game developers made it so that the children playing these games would have the correct knowledge about this historical person, even if it were just the basic details of his life that was true in how he was depicted in the games.
Considering all that has been said about Asai Nagamasa, it is pretty clear that he was one of the good guys during the bloody times in Japan. He showed that he was respectful by not rushing his father to give up leadership of the clan despite him seeing that his father was not doing a good job at it. He showed that he valued peace with how he wanted to not get involved in the fights between the Asakura and the Oda clans. Lastly, he showed that he was a real man by facing death face to face and making sure that his family would be okay after his death by returning them to the man who brought death upon him in the first place. A man like this deserved his spot in history and he will always be recognized and remembered as one of the great men and daimyo of Japan.