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1560 : THE SPRING THUNDERSTORM

 

Oda Nobunaga at the Okehazama battle of 1560, and Okehazama monuments in 2003

 

Suruga map

Click here for a detailed and complete map of Japan.
Click here for big photographs of the actual location of Okehazama battle.
Click here for more details, plus biography & pictures of Imagawa Yoshimoto.

 

It's uselessly superstitious, but you can't possibly miss the fact that every important thing in Oda Nobunaga's life seemed to happen in June (he was born in June 1534, started his nationwide campaign in June 1560, won the greatest battle of Nagashino in June 1575, and died in June 1582).

Anyway, the battle of Okehazama was pivotal to Oda Nobunaga's career, so it figures kind of hauntingly throughout this site. It happened on June 19, 1560, around today's Aichi Prefecture in Japan.

The 26 years-old Oda Nobunaga didn't start this war; he was only out to defend his little territory. Imagawa Yoshimoto, warlord of Suruga, was the one who sparked it. He wanted to go to Kyoto (a figure of speech that literally and symbolically at once meant he wanted to be the overlord of all the country), and because Oda's Owari happened to be on his route, he crossed the borders with 25,000 soldiers with the intention to finish the Oda clan's collective bio off that day.

Oda went out of his castle of Kiyosu only accompanied by his valets in the morning of the battle; no more than 6 men.

One by one his Generals and Captains joined him along the way from Kiyosu to Okehazama, all the most faithful and famous Oda warriors (click here for profiles and pictures) that would be with him all his life were there.

Mori Ranmaru's father, Mori Yoshinari, intercepted Oda Nobunaga's little band just at the outskirt of Kiyosu, adding his tiny slice of cavaliers (only 120 men) to the total number that consisted of, among others, Shibata Katsuie's 80 men, Sassa Narimasa's 300 riders, a few soldiers each commmanded by Ikeda Shonyu and Niwa Nagahide, and Toyotomi Hideyoshi's 30 infantrymen. Every able-bodied male peasant left their fields and joined in, too, dragging just any sharp tool around, when they saw how small the number of warriors was.

 

The night before Okehazama battle
Click here for the episode in the morning of this battle that put Oda Nobunaga into Zen Buddhism teachings.

 

The Oda Generals didn't believe that they would win this impossible war. Especially Shibata Katsuie. Only the night before he had tried in vain to change Oda Nobunaga's mind about a frontal combat; he kept reminding Oda of the joint army's gaping lack of manpower against the Imagawa soldiers that numbered 40,000 according to the rumors. Hayashi Sado, the remaining advisor from Oda Nobuhide's days, even argued for surrender without fighting, basing his opinion on the same math as Shibata's. Upon this, according to the clan's chronicler, Oda Nobunaga exploded;

Imagawa got 40,000 men marching toward this place? I don't believe that. He 'only' has 25,000 soldiers. Yes, that is still too many. So, Sado, you want me to surrender. What if we do surrender? Will you get content with losing your life that way?

Or what if we hold on like Katsuie wants me to? What if we stay here in this castle, lock it up, and wait until the Imagawas lose appetite and stop the siege and go home? We will be able to prolong our lives for 5-10 days, and what we cannot defend will still be undefendable.

We are at the bottom of the pit, you know. And our fate is interesting. Of course the misery is too great, too.

But this is how I see it: this is a chance in a lifetime. I can't afford to miss this.

Do you really want to spend your entire lives praying for longevity?

We were born in order to die!

Whoever is with me, come to the battlefield tomorrow morning. Whoever is not, just stay wherever you are and watch me win it!

 

click here for Oda Nobunaga's letters & memos

 

Oda Nobunaga was right; Imagawa Yoshimoto deliberately leaked the highly exaggerated number of his soldiers out to scare the Oda clan, and the official chronicler of the Imagawas put it down as was usual in medieval battle records to exaggerate numbers. But Shibata's and Hayashi's fear was not insensible either; 25,000 against 3,000 was nightmarish.

So they marched to war that morning not in faith in Oda Nobunaga's hotheaded belief that he would somehow defeat the Imagawa clan. They just did their duties as samurai, and everyone was convinced he wouldn't see another day. The heavy armor -- each Japanese armor weights more than 40 kilograms -- equal to 100 lbs -- just in case you haven't noticed) felt much heavier in the heat of dry season.

 

Imagawa Yoshimoto

Lord Imagawa Yoshimoto of Suruga (1519-1560)
and the Imagawa clan's banner

 

Imagawa began his political trip by physically destroying Oda's two outer posts, the Wazashi and Marune castles. Oda Nobunaga let them fall because he knew they couldn't get defended. His orders to his Generals and the official statements to the civilians around said that they got to evacuate the borderline and leave whatever was too hard to maintain. He didn't ask the garrison commanders to fight until the last man, or something like that; "Don't try to get heroic!" he thundered at his soldiers. "Just kill as many as you can before you fall!"

That was actually Oda Nobunaga's principle in any battle for life.

 

The Okehazama battle re-enacted for and by tourists in 2005.

 

Anyway, Imagawa encountered empty castles and fields and houses, which he burned just for the sake of doing something. He expected to see Oda Nobunaga and all the Owari Generals within the walls of the Kiyosu castle, so he ordered some prep for a siege.

But Oda Nobunaga -- against everybody else's opinion -- rode fast out the castle early in the morning, to meet Imagawa's army en route.

He found them having a break at a gorge named Okehazama. There Oda waited for his 'patchwork army' to gather, and told them to lay an ambush right there and then while a storm was coming (he took great advantage of nature's own ambush upon the Imagawas).

 

Oda Nobunaga

Oda Nobunaga charging toward the Imagawa camp.

 

Oda Nobunaga in Okehazama

Oda Nobunaga in the middle of the Imagawa camp.

 

Thunderstorm, smugness, fatigue and so on were assistants to General Oda in this battle; the remaining Imagawa soldiers fled home after their lord Yoshimoto got killed by (both claimed to be the one) Hattori Koheita and/or Mori Shinsuke.

Oda returned to Kiyosu carrying Imagawa Yoshimoto's head as souvenir (now don't think this was Oda Nobunaga's private sadism; every Japanese samurai always took the heads of his enemies in wars).

The next morning, he woke up to find the inevitable career as the so-called 'unifier of Japan'.

 

This is the place where Tokugawa Ieyasu and his clan waited for the end of the Okehazama war.

 

In the same morning, Oda Nobunaga's future ally Tokugawa Ieyasu had reached his long-neglected Mikawa province, and he woke up in his own castle Okazaki (click here for Tokugawa Ieyasu's places).

He had made a crucial decision yesterday.

When Imagawa Yoshimoto sent messengers to call the Tokugawa clan up to join him in the move toward Oda Nobunaga's Kiyosu, Tokugawa startled his Generals by ordering them to stay put. They were resting, at the time, at the Odaka castle -- a small garrison close enough to Tokugawa's own borders.

"But, My Lord," Honda Heihachi said, confused at this order, "aren't we commiting a breach of conduct by this?".

"I don't want to fight Oda Nobunaga," Ieyasu replied. "Not if I still want to see another day. We have done enough for the Imagawas. Now is our turn to mind our own lives."

They had done enough, alright. Tokugawa Ieyasu had been Imagawa Yoshimoto's hostage for a decade or so (click here for story and pictures), and this hostage thing was the only reason why he fought for the Imagawas. Sent as the vanguard by Imagawa, Tokugawa Ieyasu and his army had brought down one or two outermost Oda castles. That's proof of their contribution to the Imagawa clan's campaign, enough to prevent dishonorable stigma as jilters. But that was as far as Tokugawa Ieyasu would go. He wouldn't get any further.

So, using the rest needed by his men as an internal excuse, he sent no reply to the Imagawas and waited there at Odaka until the war was over exactly the way Tokugawa had predicted (and to which Imagawa Yoshimoto had steadfastly refused to listen).

Then he took his entire army back to Okazaki, and started his overhaul of the province. By Imagawa Yoshimoto's death he was by now a free man.

 

WHY ALL THE FANFARE ? WHAT DID THIS BATTLE MEAN TO ODA NOBUNAGA ? CLICK HERE

 

NEXT : THE BATTLE OF ANE RIVER VERSUS ASAI NAGAMASA & ASAKURA YOSHIKAGE NEXT PROFILES

 

THE ODA ARMY & NAVY

ODA NOBUNAGA'S WARS

 

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