Oda Nobunaga was the first unifier of Japan. He became known during the Sengoku Jidai or better known as Japan’s Age of Warring States. It was a time in history full of conflicts and rivalry between powerful Daimyo or warlords.
This period began in the year 1467 with the onset of the Onin War. It was when regional strife and struggles between two Daimyo are becoming a nationwide issue involving and convoluting the Ashikaga Shogunate.
Following the war, the Shogunate turned into the Hosokawa clan’s puppet. And with the Shogunate weakened and their power diminished, the clans could freely immerse themselves in battle, in which they did.
For a total of 130 years, conflicts and battles continued to rage in the country. Clans continued to compete for influence and to gain control over the position of the Shogunate. The very first hundred years of the Sengoku Jidai, none of the clans attempted to reunite the country, but one man changed this.
The First Unifier of Japan
Oda Nobunaga was the very first unifier of the country which was during the late 16th century. Oda was born on the 23rd of June, 1534. He was a powerful Daimyo from the Sengoku era and was able to conquer and control almost the entire country before his death.
Even if Oda being the initiator of Japan’s unification, people recognize him as a tyrant due to his brutal ways of ruling the land.
He’s known to have a short temper and was highly ambitious. He was also vain and very self-motivated. As a result, his goals led him to kill indiscriminately. This was to guarantee that there were no other vendettas against him that were related to his actions.
During his rule and generally is whole life, Oda adopted the ‘take no prisoners’ attitude.
The Early Life of Oda
The Daimyo, Oda Nobunaga, was born in Owari Province on the island of Honshu. His father was an official of the government, serving under the Ashikaga Shogunate. Nobunaga was the second son of Oda Nobuhide, and his name during his youth was Kipposhi.
Oda was an uncontrollable and wild boy who paid little to no heed to the rule of his domains.
In the year 1551, his father Nobuhide unexpectedly died. During his wake, Nobunaga claims acting inappropriately and outrageously. Such as shamelessly throwing a number of ceremonial incense straight at the altar.
This act led a large number of the Oda retainers to side with his well-mannered and more soft-spoken brother, Nobuyuki. These retainers were also convinced of Nobunaga’s lack of discipline and mediocrity.
One of Nobunaga’s loyal retainers named Hirate Masahide grew ashamed of his lord’s behavior. This caused him to commit Seppuku as a form of remonstrance. Hirate’s act was a blow to the warlord since he not only lost a valuable retainer but also lost a mentor. After this occurrence, Nobunaga eventually built a temple in honor of Hirate.
The Reunification of Feudal Japan
Throughout the next decades, Nobunaga was able to strengthen his rule over the country. With that, anyone who attempts to oppose him in any way would be crushed. The art of this warlord’s success all stemmed from his progressive utilization of firearms.
During this period, guns have already become an integral part of Japanese warfare. Of course, Nobunaga took advantage of these and utilized these armaments in large numbers. This was his strategy since guns of that time had a slow reloading rate, and using a plethora of these would make up for its lack of speed.
During battles, Nobunaga had his musketeer unit fire in rows: after the first set of shots, the front row would duck to reload while the second row of musketeers would fire after.
Additionally, Oda Nobunaga was able to break free from tradition and selects his men to lead his army based on their ability, and not their family links. One of his best generals, who eventually became the second unifier of Japan, was Hideyoshi Toyotomi. He began as a low ranked peasant soldier, yet due to his exceptional abilities as both leader and warrior, Nobunaga promoted Hideyoshi and made him into the top lieutenant.
By the year 1582, Oda Nobunaga ruled about half of the country and was the most powerful Daimyo during that period. Yet despite being the most powerful, Oda gained a large number of enemies; some who were already plotting different ways to overthrow him.
Betrayals and Death
At some point in history, one of Nobunaga’s most trusted generals betrayed him. It was the time when he lost the ability to control the government. There were a number of speculations regarding his death. The most common one would be that he disemboweled himself during the Honnoji Incident in the year 1582, at the hands of his general, Akechi Mitsuhide. During his reign, Oda claims to treat his retainers arrogantly; and Akechi, despite being one of his most loyal generals, had experienced such treatment from his lord.
Akechi Mitsuhide was a late addition to the warlord’s inner circle. However, he was quite a talented poet and general, which may have provoked Nobunaga’s jealousy. Yet in 1577, a rift grew between the two. During this year, Akechi was commanded to subdue Tamba. In the course of the campaign, Akechi besieged the Hatano clan’s castle. Akechi was able to secure the bloodless surrender of Hatano Hideharu, then took him before his lord.
To his surprise, Nobunaga instead, ordered the execution of both Hatano and his brother. Because of this, the retainers of Hatano blamed Akechi for this occurrence. They took revenge by kidnapping then brutally murdering his mother (though some claim that it was Akechi’s aunt instead). This greatly divided the two, and what further fueled their failing relationship were the numerous public insults that Nobunaga clearly directed at Mitsuhide.
However, the cause of his betrayal was rather controversial. It’s been said that Akechi heard rumors about Nobunaga confiscating his fief and would be given to Mori Ranmaru instead. There were a total of 15 other motives for his betrayal and aside from overhearing such rumors and receiving insults from his lord, Akechi was claimed to have grown jealous over Oda’s greater favor towards Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
Contributions and Achievements
Nobunaga was able to successfully overthrew the Ashikaga Shogunate. From there, he was able to control half of the country. Thus, becoming the visual dictator of Japan in the year 1570.
This was when Oda ushered the Azuchi – Momoyama period which was from the year 1573 to 1600. He was also named after Hideyoshi and Nobunaga’s castles. These major steps were taken as great advancements towards reunification.
So the warlord had a seven-story castle built and was encircled by stone walls right on the shores of Lake Biwa in Azuchi. This was a finely-built castle since it was able to readily endure firearm attacks. Hence, became the symbol of the age of reunification.
Oda Nobunaga’s power increased when he was able to conquer the Daimyo, drew merchants and religious communities in his military form. He was also able to break barriers to acquire free commerce. Oda was able to institutionalize administrative practices like tax collection, a systematized village organization, and standard measurements.
The Legacy of Tyrannical Warlord
Oda was the only warrior who was able to conquer most of the country. This helped Hideyoshi then eventually, Tokugawa, to completely unify the land. Without the help and power of the three unifiers, the country would have been a completely different place in this age, and may still be waging a civil war.
Most people know of Nobunaga because of his ways of leadership, and also the indiscriminate killings. However, only a few know about how much he had influenced the country’s economy by implementing a type of free market to further stimulate businesses and also the country’s overall economy.