Oda Nobunaga

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Oda Nobunaga

Oda Nobunaga ( 織田 信 長 ; * June 23, 1534 in Nagoya Castle ; † June 21, 1582 in Kyōto ) was one of the most powerful Japanese generals ( 大名 Daimyō ) of the Sengoku period ( time of the warring countries , 1467-1568), see also Sengoku daimyo , in which the feudal lords of the fragmented Japanese archipelago fought in changing constellations for supremacy over the empire (hence later referred to as the first of the three unifiers ). By promoting capable followers, a clever alliance policy and the use of firearms , which had become famous in Japan around the middle of the 16th century , he succeeded in bringing most of Japan under his control. But as a result of an argument with his henchman Akechi Mitsuhide , he was driven to his death and had to leave the completion of the unification of the empire to the devoted general Toyotomi Hideyoshi .


Nobunaga, painted by Giovanni Niccolò

From his birth to the unification of Owari Province (1534–1560)

Oda Nobunaga was born on June 23, 1534 in Nagoya Castle as the second child of a warlord in Owari Province (now Aichi Prefecture ), Oda Nobuhide . His child's name was Kippōshi ( 吉 法師 ). Immediately after his birth he was appointed lord of the castle and brought up by a tutor ( moriyaku ) named Hirate Masahide. In contrast, his younger brother Nobuyuki's upbringing was left to his mother. Even during childhood Nobunaga stood out for his free, sometimes bizarre behavior. With the initiation ceremony in 1546 he received adult status and was henceforth Kazusanosuke Nobunaga. Two years later he married Nōhime , a daughter of Saitō Dōsan , a warlord in Mino Province (now Gifu Prefecture ). Like many marriages of the time, this was also done from a political point of view.

When the father Nobuhide died unexpectedly in 1551, some of the followers, alienated by Nobunaga's behavior, felt drawn to the younger brother Nobuyuki, who was blessed with more pleasant manners. In the battle for the position of head of the family, Nobunaga defeated his brotherly rival and took over the father's rights. Uncle Oda Nobutomo also started an uprising and seized the Kiyosu Castle, which was actually owned by Nobunaga and a militarily and economically important base in the Owari province . He was beaten in 1555 and forced to die by Seppuku .

In the world of feudal lords, which is characterized by tradition and elaborate manners, Nobunaga shocked with his unorthodox attitude and his inappropriate behavior. His governor, Hirate Masahide, committed seppuku in 1553 to correct him for his strange behavior. Nobunaga's nickname was "hollow head" (in Japanese utsuke or utsukemono ) because of his clothing, which for the people of the time was not acceptable for a man of his class, but from today's perspective can be interpreted as an expression of his pronounced individualism.

His father-in-law Saitō Dōsan was killed in 1556 by his son Saitō Yoshitatsu . Nobunaga visited Kyoto in 1559 with 500 vassals and received an audience with the 13th Muromachi Shogun Ashikaga Yoshiteru . In that year, the Owari Province of Nobunaga was united.

From Okehazama to the fall of the Ashikaga shogunate - 1560 to 1574

In 1560 there was the battle of Okehazama . With about 2,000 to 3,000 soldiers, he defeated Imagawa Yoshimoto , a leading warlord in the provinces of Mikawa (now the eastern part of Aichi Prefecture ), Tōtōmi (now the western part of Shizuoka Prefecture ) and Suruga (now the eastern part of Shizuoka Prefecture) who invaded Owari Province with 25,000 soldiers. As a result, the Imagawa (Klan) are massively weakened, but Yoshimoto's son and heir Imagawa Ujizane still supports Oda and repeatedly gives him expensive gifts and takes him to the field against the Takeda . In 1561 his brother-in-law Saito Yoshitatsu died. Nobunaga began to conquer the western part of the Mino Province . In 1562 he concluded the so-called Kiyosu alliance with Matsudaira Motoyasu (later Tokugawa Ieyasu , the founder of the Tokugawa- or Edo Shogunate ), a new warlord in the Mikawa province .

In 1564 he conquered the eastern part of the province of Mino . Shogun Ashikaga Yoshiteru was murdered in 1565. The conquest of the entire province of Mino was completed in 1567. That year his sister Ichi got married. Through this marriage, his family joined forces with the warlord Azai Nagamasa, who then ruled Ōmi Province (now Shiga Prefecture ). His first son Nobutada married a daughter of the Takeda family, who then ruled the provinces of Kai (now Yamanashi Prefecture ) and Shinano (now Nagano Prefecture ). Also in 1567 came the political slogan Tenka Fubu , the conquest by the military and the new economic policy of the rakuichi rakuza (see below).

Following the request of Ashikaga Yoshiaki , the 15th and last shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate , Nobunaga conquered Kyoto and another five provinces in the Kinki region in 1568 . In 1569, the Portuguese missionary Luís Fróis , a member of the Society of Jesus , received an audience with Nobunaga and received a permit to stay in Kyoto. In the same year Nobunaga conquered the province of Ise (now Mie prefecture ). 1570 asked Nobunaga Ashikaga Yoshiaki restrictions on the right of the Shogunate and urged other warlords to visit Kyoto. He began the conquest of Wakasa Province (now the western part of Fukui Prefecture ), which was then ruled by Asakura Yoshikage, who had rejected his demands. This led to a conflict with his brother-in-law, Azai Nagamasa, as the Azai family had long been on friendly terms with the Asakura family. In the Battle of Anegawa ( Anegawa no tatakai ) Nobunaga defeated the alliance of Azai and Asakura with the help of Tokugawa Ieyasu.

The Buddhist Ikkō sect (better known today as Jōdo-Shinshū ) began to rebel against Nobunaga. At that time, Buddhism had great political power in Japan. The Ikkō sect initially tried to ally with Nobunaga, as they only assessed him as the new lord of Kyōto. Nobunaga was a Buddhist, but he tried to enforce the separation of religion and state. That is why he allowed the introduction of Christianity and had representatives of both sides, Buddhists and Jesuits, discuss in order to achieve his political goal. It was not just Nobunaga who believed that missionaries mostly won these debates. As a result, Buddhism lost the trust of the government and the people, resulting in the loss of their political power. Therefore, the Ikkō sect was afraid of Nobunaga's success because they could completely lose their political power if he had united Japan. The attack on the Ikkō sect at Nagashima Castle in 1571 was a failure. There was another battle against the Azai Ikkō alliance and Nobutada burned the Enryaku-ji temple down.

In 1572 the northern part of Ōmi province was invaded , Nobutada's first battle. Takeda Shingen invaded the Tōtōmi province. Takeda Shingen defeated Tokugawa Ieyasu at the Battle of Mikatagahara . Takeda Shingen died in 1573. In the same year there was an uprising of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshiaki . He failed and Nobunaga expelled Yoshiaki from Kyoto ; so the Ashikaga shogunate went under. With the fall of the Ashikaga shogunate, the so-called Azuchi-Momoyama period (in Japanese Azuchi-Momoyama jidai ) began. Nobunaga had finally ruined the Azai and Asakura families.

The invasion of the Chūgoku area of ​​western Japan - 1574 to 1582

In 1574 there was an invasion of Takeda Katsuyori, the son of Takeda Shingen. Nobunaga attacked Nagashima Castle , which was occupied by the Ikko sect. He let the castle burn down and 20,000 guerrillas died in the fire. In 1575 the battle of Nagashino took place . Due to the use of arquebuses protected behind palisades , the alliance of Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu defeated the Takeda clan. About 3,000 rifles are said to have been used. The imperial family recommended making Nobunaga "Minister on the Right". His first son Nobutada received the rights of head of the family. Since then, Nobunaga has only focused on the unification of Japan.

In 1576 he ordered the construction of Azuchi Castle . He attacked the Hongan-ji temple , the power center of the Jōdo-Shinshū . In the same year he was promoted to Minister of the Interior.

In 1577 he ordered the invasion of Kii Province (now Wakayama Prefecture ). He also ordered Shibata Katsuie and Hashiba Hideyoshi (later Toyotomi Hideyoshi ) the attack on the province of Kaga (today Ishikawa ) and the invasion of the province of Harima (today Hyōgo prefecture ). He rose to the position of "Minister on the Right". In 1578, the new construction of Azuchi Castle was completed, which was the first castle in Japan to incorporate western architectural elements. It was inaugurated with a tea ceremony .

After the Bessho Nagaharu uprising at Miki Castle, Oda resigned as minister on the right. The uprising of Araki Murashige, the siege of Yagami Castle and the sea battle of Kizukawaguchi broke out . In 1579 he began the invasion of Settsu Province (now part of Osaka Prefecture ), which ended with the surrender of Yagami Castle. The leading warlords, Hatano Hideharu and Hatano Hidenao, were executed on the cross. Araki capitulated and fled to the Mōri family. In 1580 Bessho Nagaharu surrendered. He committed seppuku ; all other participants in the revolt were forgiven. Peace was concluded with the Ikko sect. In 1581 Nobunaga received another visit from a missionary, Alessandro Valignano . He conquered the province of Iga (now part of the prefecture of Mie ). One of his most important vassals, Hashiba Hideyoshi, captured Tottori Castle in Inaba Province (now Tottori Prefecture ). In 1582 he conquered the provinces of Shinano and Kai. The Takeda family went under; none of its members survived.

That same year, one of his generals, Akechi Mitsuhide , took the opportunity to take revenge on Oda Nobunaga for an earlier insult. During a banquet, Oda, while drunk, tucked Akechi's head under his arm and hit it like a drum with a fan. When Oda was in the temple of Honnō-ji in Kyoto, Akechi brought this into his power in a surprise attack. In order not to fall into the hands of his opponent alive, Oda, seriously wounded by arrows, committed Seppuku . Toyotomi Hideyoshi then first made peace with the Mōri and followed Akechi. Just 13 days after Oda's death, he defeated him in the battle of Yamazaki (near Kyoto). Mitsuhide fled but was killed while trying to escape. After this victory, Hideyoshi took over the tutelage of the one-year-old grandson Nobunaga and secured the successor to Nobunaga as the strongest military leader in the empire in several battles.


His politics

Rakuichi rakuza

Nobunaga understood very early the importance of the economy and that the economic profit of the guilds ( za ) was monopolized. He saw this as a big problem as he wanted to form a centralized government and activate the economy. Nobunaga therefore abolished the privileged guilds and the monopoly. He also protected trade with tax exemptions and new interest laws so that people could trade freely. This policy of economic liberalization was called Rakuichi rakuza ( 楽 市 楽 座 'free markets, free / open guilds' ).

Talent promotion

Nobunaga revolutionized the extremely strict social order, which was comparable to a caste system. Those who came from lower social classes had no chance of advancement and had to submit to their fate determined by birth. Nobunaga broke this rigid tradition by introducing talent promotion. The more his vassals performed, the higher positions they could reach. Toyotomi Hideyoshi or Akechi Mitsuhide are good examples of this.

Introduction of the professional soldier

Until the middle of the 16th century there were no professional soldiers besides the samurai in Japan ; the large number of foot soldiers in particular was recruited from the ranks of the peasants. Therefore, the fighting had to cease during the arable season. By collecting trading capital, Nobunaga managed to separate the soldiers from the peasants and to mobilize them at any time, which gave his army a higher clout.

European culture and Christianity

In August 1543, a ship with three Portuguese sailors on board, Fernão Mendes Pinto among them, ran aground on the island of Tanegashima . As far as we know, these were the first visitors from the west to reach Japan. The Japanese called them Namban-jin, barbarians from the south . Among other things that were unknown to the Japanese and therefore interesting, they brought the first handguns (matchlock rifles) to Japan. The importation and use of these firearms has had a lasting impact on traditional warfare in Japan and, associated with it, the course of Japanese history. Nobunaga is said to have been very impressed with this Western technology, readily embraced it and quickly introduced it into his army for his own benefit. He was the first general who, through the massive use of firearms, availed himself of a combat command that was hitherto unknown to the Japanese - but also perceived as dishonorable. This is considered to be the beginning of the material and cultural exchange between Japan and Europe.

In 1549 the first missionary, Francisco de Xavier , arrived in Kagoshima with two Portuguese Jesuits, two servants, and three Japanese. He opened Japan to the influence of Western culture and science. In addition to the teachings of the Bible, the Jesuits, and later also the Dominicans and Franciscans, saw Western scholarship as an excellent means of spreading Catholicism. The care of the sick and wounded also brought some relief to the population in a country ravaged by violent armed conflicts. However, the Jesuits soon withdrew from these activities.

Nobunaga, suspicious of Buddhism because of the power of the monasteries and its influence on politics, welcomed the Jesuits as a counterweight. He allowed the first missionaries for Christianity , protected the missionaries of the Society of Jesus and allowed them to set up a theological seminar ( seminar ). Through this strategy, Nobunaga succeeded in curtailing the secular authority of Buddhism and separating politics from religion.

Later, however, Nobunaga's initially positive attitude towards Christianity became more cautious. He did not want to convert himself, but to be worshiped as a deity after his death, which would not have been compatible with Christian teaching. Furthermore, his real sphere of influence did not extend into the Christian regions of western Japan.

Medicine and nursing

Luís de Almeida (1525–1583), a Portuguese surgeon and merchant who entered the Jesuit order in Japan as a non-ordained brother, used the fortune he had acquired in commerce for charitable purposes. Repelled by the increasing practice of mabiki ('thinning out saplings', i.e. getting rid of unwanted children through abortion, killing or abandoning oneself ) among the poor, he opened a home for foundlings in 1556. He was of Ōtomo Yoshishige , the Shugo - daimyo of Bungo , supported and extended its home at the end of the same year by a hospital (in Funai, today Oita ) was operated in the western surgery and Sino Japanese internment. Lepers were also looked after here. Herbs and medicines were partly imported from Macau, partly collected or bought on site. This was the first hospital in Japan to use Western therapies. However, it was destroyed by troops from Satsuma as early as 1587.

Within the order there was soon a strong resistance to the medical, especially the surgical activities of de Almeida, which, however, unlike the ordained fathers, was not bound by the basic course of the church to refrain from this bloody craft. Still, he had to leave the hospital after only a year. Nursing and care for the elderly continued to be carried out, but remained the responsibility of non-ordained Japanese brothers ( irmaõs ) and helpers. The predominantly Spanish Franciscans and Dominicans who came to Japan towards the end of the century saw this area as a focus of their activities.

Pressure on Christians increased towards the end of the 16th century, culminating in the persecution and expulsion of all Spaniards and Portuguese and the complete isolation of the country from all foreigners in 1639. With the destruction of the hospital in Funai and the increasingly severe persecution of Christianity, medical exchanges had effectively collapsed. Some new remedies remained, such as the use of olive oil, animal fat, tobacco (from America) and wound cautery. A western paradigm only developed after the beginning of continuous medical contacts through the surgeons and doctors of the Dutch East India Company.


Nobunaga raised large sums of money for the renovation of Shinto shrines , especially for the Ise-jingū and the Atsuta-jingū . He is venerated as a kami in at least two shrines : in Take-isao-no-yashiro in the city of Tendō, Yamagata prefecture (built shortly after 1582, but it was not named until 1870) and in the Take-isao shrine (also : Kenkun Shrine) in Kyoto (built in 1870), together with his son Nobutada.

See also


  • Japonius Tyrannus: The Japanese Warlord Oda Nobunaga Reconsidered (Bibliotheek / Belgisch Historich Instituut Te Rome) . Hotei Publishing, 2001. ISBN 90-74822-22-3 (in English)
  • Johannes Laures: Nobunaga and Christianity (= Monumenta Nipponica Monographs 10) . Sophia University, Tokyo 1950.
  • Kuno Knöbl: The Samurai
  • Dorotheus Schilling: The school system of the Jesuits in Japan (1551-1614). Munster i. W.: Regensbergsche Buchdruckerei, 1931.
  • Michel-Zaitsu, Wolfgang: Traditional Medicine in Japan - From the early days to the present. Munich: Kiener Verlag, 2017.

Web links

Commons : Oda Nobunaga  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. http://wiki.samurai-archives.com/index.php?title=Imagawa_Ujizane
  2. Michel-Zaitsu (2017), pp. 61–70.
  3. See Johannes Laures, Nobunaga und das Christianentum, pp. 35–40.
  4. There were already houses for the sick, lepers, etc. in large Buddhist temples in Japan, but in the course of the destruction of many temples, Buddhist medical care had largely collapsed. More in Michel-Zaitsu (2017), pp. 44–47.
  5. Schilling (1931)
  6. Michel-Zaitsu (2017), p. 63f.