01 Japanese History

#22 NOBUNAGA, Charisma of Japanese history

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In the late 16th century, a charismatic figure emerged in the Sengoku period. Oda Nobunaga.


Oda Nobunaga was a feudal lord in the relatively small Owari region (present-day Aichi Prefecture). When he was young, he was called an “Idiot”. He was regarded as an eccentric who lacked common sense.


It was at the Battle of Okehazama that Nobunaga made his name known throughout Japan. He used his superior strategy to defeat Imagawa Yoshimoto of Suruga (Shizuoka Prefecture) with only a small force. Nobunaga then entered Kyoto in 1573, ousted the Shogun, and destroyed the Muromachi Shogunate.


Nobunaga’s name was at its peak by the Battle of Nagashino in 1575. Nobunaga allied with Tokugawa Ieyasu and successfully used his artillery to defeat the forces of Takeda, which was said to be the strongest in the Sengoku period. Movie director Akira Kurosawa depicted this battle in his movie “Kagemusha.”


Nobunaga’s slogan was “Tenka Fubu,” which means ruling the whole country by force of arms. He attacked the Buddhist temples without mercy. He burned down Enryaku-Ji Temple on Mt. Hiei, which refused to listen to him and surrendered Honganji Temple in Osaka.


Nobunaga built the magnificent Azuchi Castle on the shore of Lake Biwa and made it his base for unifying the country. In the castle town, he allowed merchants to operate freely, developed commerce and industry, and succeeded in economically weakening the existing aristocracy and the power of temples and shrines.


He was highly interested in foreign cultures. He protected Christianity and valued the scientific knowledge brought by Europeans. He was also said to have taken a liking to a black man brought to Japan by the missionary, whom he named Yasuke and kept by his side at all times.


His life came to a shocking end in 1582 when his vassal Akechi Mitsuhide suddenly revolted. Nobunaga was caught by surprise at Honnoji Temple in Kyoto, where he died.


The project of unifying Japan was then taken over by his other vassal Hashiba Hideyoshi, who later became known as Toyotomi Hideyoshi.


Thank you for reading.

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