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Oda Nobuhide: Tiger of Owari (1)

Posted August 12th, 2017 at 08:35 PM by Lord Oda Nobunaga
Updated Yesterday at 11:52 AM by Lord Oda Nobunaga

Owari Province: the Sengoku Jidai arrives

After the Onin War, the control of the Ashikaga Shogunate was torn apart. The result was endless civil war in the form of small localized conflicts between military strongmen. It was ironic then that the Shogun, the Generalissimo of the army who ruled in the Emperor's name and subjected the Emperor to the same treatment, had become impotent and completely at the mercy of the military men. However, not only the Emperor and Shogun had lost their power but so too did the landed aristocracy and slowly but surely those who were unable to embrace their roles as feudal strongmen were conquered by a stronger neighbor or replaced by their underlings who could embrace the role. This new phenomenon of usurpation was called Gekokujo, to overcome from below, and those who seized power this way were called daimyo, the great men. As the decades wore on one powerful clan after another rose up to claim hegemony over entire regions of Japan. The self-proclaimed “great men” seized control and waged incessant war against each other all with varying levels of success. But ultimately it was the Oda clan that rose from being a minor clan in Owari province and through their iron grasp and military might, transformed themselves into the national hegemony.

In those days Owari Province was divided into eight districts: Haguri, Kasugai, Nakashima, and Niwa were the upper districts; the lower districts were called Aichi, Chita, Kaito and Kasai. Lord Oda Nobuyasu controlled the upper districts from his castle at Iwakura where as the lower districts were controlled by Lord Oda Michikatsu from Kiyosu castle. It was Lord Oda Michikatsu who supported the governor Shiba Yoshimune, who administered the province of Owari, by putting the administrative center in his own castle. In many ways, the relationship between Oda Michikatsu and Shiba Yoshimune paralleled that of the Shogun and the Emperor. Lord Oda Michikatsu had three bugyo under his command to aid him in his duties: the Oda Danjo no Jo, the Oda Tozaemon and the Oda Inaba no Kami.

It was the line of the Oda Danjo no Jo who was said to be the most prestigious, claiming martial heroes throughout the Muromachi period and from here onward could claim even greater fame in that regard. The residence of the Oda Danjo no Jo, otherwise known as Oda Nobuhide (born 1510), was in Shobata castle near the western provincial border. Oda Nobuhide's younger brothers were Oda Nobuyasu, Oda Nobumitsu, Oda Nobuzane and Oda Nobutsugu. In addition to these of the Oda Danjo no Jo's family was their father Oda Nobusada who although had given up his position as the Danjo no Jo, was very much alive and active in the politics of the Oda clan and provincial politics but would adopt a less overt role. Oda Nobuhide was a competent military man who fulfilled his role as a bugyo to governor Shiba.

Oda Nobuhide: The Tiger Lord

Aside from being a fierce combatant and capable in military affairs Nobuhide had also acquired a reputation for being a persuasive and friendly individual. Indeed many of the samurai families and barons of Owari province were willing to answer his calls to arms. It was around 1536 in which he gained his hereditary title as the head of the Danjo no Jo and in addition to that, his position as a bugyo of Owari. In that year the lord of Anjo castle in Mikawa province to the east, Matsudaira Kiyoyasu, had been murdered in a plot by one of his retainers, aided by another feudal lord of that province in a conspiracy that Nobuhide and his father were said to have been implicated but an accusation that has never been proven. To the provincials of Owari and Mikawa, this otherwise common occurrence came as a shock both to the established aristocracy and to the political balance of the region. Oda Nobuhide's new found role came about during interesting circumstances, however, it seems that this actually increased his power.

Soon after becoming a bugyo he ordered the construction of a strong castle in the center of the province next to the town called Nagoya. He had in fact seized Nagoya in the spring of 1532 from Imagawa Ujitoyo, who was an uncle of Imagawa Yoshimoto and married to the daughter of Shiba Yoshimune who had himself originally built a castle there in 1525. Nobuhide often wrote poetry with Ujitoyo and under the guise of one of these visits he entered the castle with a handful of men and seized it from Ujitoyo. This act removed the limited presence of the Imagawa clan in Owari province for a time. He gave this upgraded castle to his infant son and heir Kipposhi (born in 1534) and placed Hayashi Hidesada, Hirate Masahide, Aoyama Yosoemon, Naito Shosuke and Hirate Nakazukasa as his guardians and advisers. After the construction of Nagoya castle, Lord Nobuhide would go on to order the construction of Furuwatari castle, to the south of Nagoya and closer to the eastern border, to which he would move his new residence.

It was around this same time in 1540 that Oda Nobuhide took it upon himself to wage his first notable campaign into Mikawa province in order to take advantage of the power vacuum created by the assassination of Matsudaira Kiyoyasu and seize Anjo castle. Nobuhide's conquest of Anjo castle must have been at least noticed because in the eighth lunar month of 1542 the Imagawa clan of Suruga province in the east mobilized their troops and entered Mikawa province, where Oda Nobuhide controlled Anjo castle. Seven contingents attacked; made up of feudal lords from Suruga, Totomi, and Mikawa, which had pledged allegiances or were allied to Imagawa Yoshimoto and which included Matsudaira Hirotada, son to the aforementioned enemy of the Oda clan Matsudaira Kiyoyasu.

It is clear that this large host caused a disturbance within Owari province as Oda Nobuhide and his army had already gone to Anjo castle to defend it. Imagawa Yoshimoto had placed his vanguard under the command of a retainer called Yuhara who at the time was advancing toward a place called Azukizaka. In reaction, Nobuhide marched his army towards a place called Yahagi and had dispatched his brothers Nobuyasu, Nobumitsu and Nobuzane with a contingent to intercept Yuhara's vanguard at Azukizaka. When the two armies began to clash the Oda troops adopted a defensive stance with one knee bent towards the ground and spears pointed upwards and while this wore down the Imagawa troops they then switched to charge into the Imagawa ranks. This they did about three or four times during which the enemy commander Yuhara took the head of a troop captain, and then determining that his army had had enough ordered a withdrawal. Nobuhide's brothers distinguished themselves in this engagement taking heads and suffering some injuries.

With the Imagawa vanguard having retreated and the advance towards Anjo castle having been halted by the Oda brothers at Azukizaka and at Yahagi by Nobuhide himself, the Imagawa clan chose to advance no further. Instead, Imagawa Yoshimoto correctly assuming that his show of force was still significant enough to keep Oda Nobuhide from invading Mikawa province in the meantime while also keeping the local lords of Mikawa firmly in the Imagawa clan's fold, stationed troops in Mikawa and withdrew back to Suruga.

Saito Dosan: the merchant Viper

To the north lay the province of Mino, a more prosperous and peaceful place than Owari though one which would soon face similar problems. There was once a man from Yamashiro province where Kyoto is located, his name was Saito Dosan (born 1494). Though originally a monk he later became a merchant and acquired a sizable fortune. With his influence and wealth, he bought his way into the court of Lord Toki Yorinari who was the ruler of Mino province. His power became so great that he successfully convinced the vassals of the Toki clan to openly dissent and as a result of this Toki Yorinari was forced to appease him by increasing his rank to that of a magistrate, allowing him to build a castle at Inabayama and giving him one of his own concubines. Over time it looked as if Saito Dosan had become the true ruler of Mino province and using Lord Toki's own resources he overthrew him in 1542. Toki Yorinari held out in what little of Mino province he still controlled but seeing that Oda Nobuhide had established himself as a prominent feudal lord in his own right Toki Yorinari made an alliance with him to defeat his wayward vassal Saito Dosan.

To that end on the 3rd day of the ninth month of 1544, Oda Nobuhide crossed the Kiso River northwards into Mino province, bringing troops that he had recruited from across Owari and joined the forces of Lord Toki. Nobuhide raided and laid waste to those lands which he passed by on his way to Inabayama castle. On the 22nd day of the ninth month, the allied clans lay siege to Inabayama castle. They ravaged those villages that surrounded the castle and late in the day decided to advance onto the castle town itself. Due to the approaching darkness and not willing to risk ambush or a grinding battle within the town Nobuhide chose to retreat. In truth Saito Dosan was quite resourceful as he had made sure to build his castle on the exceptionally high ground of mount Inuyama; the allied forces were unable to attack Inabayama castle. As a result, Oda Nobuhide and Toki Yorinari were forced to retreat to their own lands rather than exhaust their forces in a fruitless attack. But when their forces had already started leaving that area Saito Dosan sortied from his castle and attacked what troops were still trying to withdraw at a place called Kanoguchi. In the darkness and confusion, the allied troops tried to make a stand but were overwhelmed by Saito Dosan's sudden attack. The line could not be held and the allied army was routed with some 5,000 men lost, including the Lord's brother Oda Nobuyasu along with many prominent men from Owari.

Oda Nobuhide had suffered his first major setback and what was more Saito Dosan had proven himself a worthy adversary. But now that he had dared to cross the Kiso River northwards into Mino he had made an enemy of Saito Dosan while also having to contend with the forces of Matsudaira Hirotada and his stronger ally Imagawa Yoshimoto to the east. It did not take long for these enemies to circle for easy prey. Saito Dosan called upon his vassals and even allies in neighboring Omi province to supply a large force in order to invade Owari province. As was expected Saito Dosan attacked Ogaki castle in the north of Owari where he besieged its castellan Oda Harima no Kami. Within the first ten days of the eleventh month, multiple reports came that Saito Dosan had encircled Ogaki castle and was preparing to take it by storm. Oda Nobuhide took immediate action and raising another army he rapidly crossed the Kiso River once again, this time by ferry, and invaded Mino on the 17th of that same month. Most of these troops, however, were recruited from among the feudal families of Owari province rather than those that served the Oda clan directly. Oda Nobuhide burned everything between the towns of Takegahana and Akanabe. Realizing how quickly Nobuhide had recovered and that his own rear area was completely exposed to the Oda army, Saito Dosan was forced to give up his siege of Ogaki castle and return to Mino province to ward off Nobuhide's newest attack.

Owari province was still ruled by many feudal lords who pledged allegiance to a governor. Oda Nobuhide did not enjoy the power of an absolute ruler, after all, he was still one of three bugyo who were subject to the two lords of the eight districts and their puppet governor. This became evident when on the 20th of the eleventh month the Kiyosu Oda attacked their own bugyo Oda Nobuhide's residential castle at Furuwatari and burned the town gates while Nobuhide himself was in Mino. Upon receiving this news Nobuhide cut short his campaign in Mino, now that Saito Dosan had given up the siege of Ogaki. When he returned to Owari he found that the Kiyosu Oda had been unable to attack Furuwatari castle itself and their armies withdrew upon Nobuhide's unexpected return. From then on Nobuhide would also be at war with the Kiyosu branch of the Oda clan, though he, in fact, sent multiple peace proposals to Oda Michikatsu and his retainers. Hirate Masahide was in charge of the peace process. It was perhaps the growing influence of Nobuhide that prompted Oda Michikatsu to wage war upon his own official and also what led to the peace settlement now that Michikatsu could not compete with his vassal, aside from the eloquent words and persuasion of Hirate Masahide to the Kiyosu Oda retainers.

During the campaigns in Mikawa province, Nobuhide had seized Yasuyoshi castle which in 1545 would be besieged by Matsudaira Hirotada. It was a bout of opportunism which no doubt prompted Matsudaira Hirotada to take action against Nobuhide now that he had both been defeated at Kanoguchi and was surrounded from three sides. What Nobuhide's enemies did not anticipate was that Nobuhide would recover so quickly. Despite these attempts, Matsudaira Hirotada was unable to retake Yasuyoshi castle and when Oda Nobuhide mobilized his troops to relieve it the Matsudaira clan withdrew to their fief. Matsudaira inability to wage war against Oda Nobuhide would lead to further action being taken by Imagawa Yoshimoto in order to support his allies.

In the year 1546 Nobuhide's designated heir Kipposhi became a man at the age of 12 and was hence forth known as Nobunaga. The next year in 1547 it was decided that the young Oda Nobunaga should experience war for the first time, as was expected of a feudal lord. Accompanied by one of his guardians Hirate Masahide they would raid Mikawa province. The young Nobunaga and his contingent crossed the Yahagi River eastwards and raided the lands and villages as far as the small towns of Ohama and Kira. He set fire to the surrounding area, defeated a small Imagawa garrison and pitched camp for the night then returned to Owari province the next day.

In 1548 Hirate Masahide, who had been attempting to broker peace between Oda Nobuhide and Oda Michikatsu of Kiyosu, suggested a new proposal to his lord. Oda Nobuhide's son Nobunaga should be wed to Saito Dosan's daughter Kicho. This was a proposal to which Saito Dosan agreed most likely by a desire to cement his legitimacy. Not only did this bring peace between Mino and Owari but Oda Nobuhide was now allied to the powerful Saito Dosan which would provide a strong barrier to Imagawa Yoshimoto and his coalition. But as important as Nobunaga's role had been he had few serious interests at this time.

As a youth Nobunaga spent his time horseback riding, swimming, viewing military drills in which he devised the long spear, staging mock battles with his retainers and the local peasants and practicing archery and arquebus shooting with his instructors Ichikawa Daisuke and Hashimoto Ippa. He liked to wear a sleeveless bathrobe, short trousers, belts carrying pouches with flints for his gun and kept his hair up straight with bright colored cords all while carrying a large sword with a red sheath. On campaign, he wore a red turban (zukin) and a red half-coat (haori) and liked to fit his horse with armor. His personal retinue of samurai were also ordered to wear red. When he would go to visit the towns he often loitered about in the center of town eating fruits, rice cakes, and sweet confections and when he walked about he liked to be carried or leaned on others for support. For this eccentric behavior and bad etiquette, he was called a fool by all who knew of him. For the moment Nobunaga had little to worry about while his father, uncles and older brother Nobuhiro were around.

A monk called Sessai

Now that his issues with Saito Dosan and Oda Michikatsu were resolving themselves, Oda Nobuhide had decided to once again wage war against the Matsudaira clan of Mikawa province. In 1548 a very prominent Matsudaira vassal by the name of Toda Yasumitsu rebelled and declared his support for Oda Nobuhide. Though Toda Yasumitsu's revolt was defeated by Matsudaira Hirotada this did not stop Oda Nobuhide from attacking the Matsudaira directly. After the loss of Anjo castle to the Oda clan eight years prior the Matsudaira had depended more on their castle of Okazaki in the center of Mikawa province as well as Imagawa military aid. It was that castle which Oda Nobuhide sought to strike in order to end the conflict with the Matsudaira and by extension their Imagawa allies once and for all.

The 4,000 men of the Oda clan marched out of Anjo castle (where they gathered in Mikawa province) then crossed the Yahagi River within sight of Okazaki castle. Matsudaira Hirotada pleaded for aid from Imagawa Yoshimoto which the powerful lord agreed to only if Hirotada would give him his son Takechiyo as a hostage. Hirotada had little choice but to agree to the outrageous demand and while the infant Takechiyo was being taken to Suruga province his convoy was intercepted by the vengeful Toda Yasumitsu. This former Matsudaira vassal in turn handed over the child to Oda Nobuhide as a hostage. The residence of the Matsudaira family was placed under siege by Oda Nobuhide's army and their existence hung by a thread. Hirotada was expected to join forces with Oda Nobuhide now that defeat was inevitable. Threats that Takechiyo would be executed were doubtlessly given but Hirotada called their bluff and maybe unexpectedly Nobuhide chose to spare the child.

But the gap between certainty and uncertainty began to close as Imagawa Yoshimoto sent out a relief force. The Imagawa army was commanded by a priest and ascetic called Taigen Sessai who was, in fact, an uncle of Imagawa Yoshimoto. Whether Imagawa Yoshimoto was desperate or Sessai's good advice arrived at an opportune time is unknown however the results speak for themselves. Oda Nobuhide hearing of the Imagawa relief force and knowing that he would be unable to carry out his siege of Okazaki decided to intercept Sessai. The monk Sessai proved to be competent in military affairs and placed his army in Azukizaka which lay to the south east of Okazaki and the site of Nobuhide's earlier victory six years prior. Nobuhide advanced into Sessai's trap whose well positioned troops engaged and defeated the Oda army, avenging their earlier defeat at his hands. Nobuhide gathered his forces and retreated to Owari. Thus the second Battle of Azukizaka was fought in which not only did the Imagawa win by force of arms but also acquired the Matsudaira clan as one of their clients; 1548 provided a rare victory for those times in which one party won in every way.

The defeat at the hands of Sessai weighed heavily upon the Oda clan, such was the case that it is scarcely mentioned in the sources. Indeed Oda Nobuhide tore down his castle at Furuwatari and relocated north east to Suemori where he built a hillside fortress. Again the vultures began to circle what looked like a weakened Oda Nobuhide. In the 17th of the first month of 1549 feudal lords within Owari took up arms against Nobuhide once again. The lords of Inuyama and Gakuden in northern Owari crossed the Kasugai plain southward. They raided the surrounding area of Kashiwai and the temple of Ryusen. Lord Nobuhide was not paralyzed by this sudden treachery and assembling his men he rapidly marched from Suemori to meet them. There on the Kasugai plain, he fought an engagement with them and routed them. The people of Owari often ridiculed them saying:
"Trailing their leashes,
The dogs of Inuyama
Fled across the fields.
Hear them barking over their abuse
Far away in the distance!"

Later in 1549 Matsudaira Hirotada was killed by some of his vassals. It was long claimed that this was the doing of the Oda clan. A temporary peace resided over the region but Oda Nobuhide did not enjoy this peace for long. On the 3rd day of the third month of 1552, Lord Oda Nobuhide died of an illness while still only 41 years old. Meanwhile, Taigen Sessai had been installed by the Imagawa as a sort of viceroy in Mikawa province and with the death of Hirotada, the Matsudaira clan depended on further Imagawa support. But now that Oda Nobuhide himself had died the intelligent Sessai chose this time to strike at the Oda clan. Sessai with his army laid siege to Anjo castle which had long been the cause of war between the Oda and Matsudaira clans. Anjo castle was controlled by Oda Nobuhiro, the elder brother of Oda Nobunaga. Sessai gave Oda Nobunaga a choice: give the hostage Takechiyo to the Imagawa clan as well as Anjo castle in exchange for his brother Oda Nobuhiro and a cessation of hostilities. Nobunaga knowing full well that he could not fight the Imagawa at such an inopportune time decided to give in to those demands. Within a year another victory was claimed by Imagawa Yoshimoto who not only controlled Mikawa province but had also taken the means to make his control permanent.

"Birth and death: impermanence
Is the law of this world,
The sorrow of it all!
Whistling winds scatter
The dew from the grasses.
Huge tinted clouds obscure
The light of the full moon."
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