OF ODA CLAN
NOBUNAGA'S MANAGEMENT OF INTERNAL BIZ, POLITICS, & ECONOMY
In emergency, even Oda Nobunaga's butler Fujii Mataemon would take care of the household's defense system, Oda's chambermaid Sai would fight (click here for story and pictures), and Oda's valet Mori Ranmaru was essentially a soldier 24/7 (click here for story and pictures). But in relative peace, only Mori and his younger brothers had such things in their job description. The valets were nearly the only warriors within the basically normal civilian core of the clan's HQ.
The center of life in any Japanese spot during this churning hundred years of 16th century was the castle or fort or stronghold. Oda Nobunaga's Gifu, for instance, was the capital city of Oda's territory as a whole at the end of 1570's; when it started to grow, Oda's previous castles of Komaki, Kiyosu and Nagoya (in reversed chronological order, and click here for pictures) got a great chunk of their souls uprooted and replanted in Gifu. That way, a castle left behind by the head of the clan deteriorated; they took this for granted as life itself. Oda Nobunaga put his Generals at castles that were crucial to the entire defense system of his provinces, and relatives at those that were not so much in need of real warriors.
Oda Nobunaga was the epitome of individualism as far as the Japanese standard is the measure of what he be all his life.
He never cared about your pedigree, and never based his valuation of your head on who's the father of your father was, or whether you knew the Emperor's chef's niece's second-cousin's father in-law or not (just so that you know what I mean). Dealing with everybody on a man-to-man basis, Oda was seen by his times as eccentrically disrespectful toward tradition and a constant trespasser of manners. Of course he wasn't a populist; such a thing was impossible to be found in feudalism. But he strictly held on to assessment of merits rather than like or dislike (Toyotomi Hideyoshi sometimes resorted to this) or genealogy (Tokugawa Ieyasu's ultimate reference in his administrative processes). He's utilitarian to some point, but almost never basing his decisions about transfer or sack-off of his men on sterile calculation (Tokugawa's were) nor absolute whim (Toyotomi's often were).
The most obvious example of the Oda style in recruitment and management is something you all have known; Oda took Toyotomi Hideyoshi in at the age of 16 or 17 without as much as asking who the kid was -- he only saw potentials in the funny-looking guy that, at the time, no one else took seriously. He picked Akechi Mitsuhide up the same way, disregarding Akechi's fine line of ancestry -- that's one of Akechi's cancerous grudges against Toyotomi. Oda liked Toyotomi most, and he trusted the man above his normal level of trust (which was always minimum), but any time Toyotomi made a mistake he didn't overlook it, and whenever Toyotomi performed beneath standard in wars, he never got a share of the spoils, no reward, and no appraisal (despite Toyotomi's all-shining entries of the CV all his career, this happened often enough!). And I hope you have been to more than ten pages at this site so you have seen how Oda sacked his senior General Takigawa Kazumasu -- he did it only after giving Takigawa time (five whole years!) to 'change his ways'.
A warlord like Oda Nobunaga surely couldn't do all the necessarily bloody deeds on his own. Oda Nobunaga's recipe for effective winnings lies in his completely unscrupulous attitude in delegating authority. Unlike Tokugawa Ieyasu, Oda wasn't an administrator; he's a leader, not a boss. He fixed up short-termed goals for the men under his command, but the rest of the thing was theirs to deliberate about. He gave them common ends to achieve every time around, but how to arrive at that rested on each of the Generals' own.
This was the age of Personalities (with the letter 'P' capitalized), no longer the times of Great Clans (click here for story and pictures of such); therefore wars of 16th century Japan were clashes among warlords rather than feudal feuds among dynasties. So all that was needed was one personality that could unite and direct the rest; that's why Oda Nobunaga came to be what he was. No one ever questioned this part of the game. Nobody didn't lose his guts facing Oda Nobunaga alone, whether in verbal exchange or martial arts. So it was normal to them that he led.
Oda Nobunaga's individualism was also manifested in the fact that he never had any such a thing as an advisor; there was no longer an Advisory Board in the Oda clan after the one Nobunaga got from his daddy's days lost the members by the inevitable call of old age. From the very beginning, when he was 15 years old, Oda Nobunaga decided things by himself. This was a habit maintained until his last minutes on earth. Meetings were for strategies and tactics and tricks; deciding goals was all his own stuff. That's why Oda was the unifier of Japan, to begin with. If he didn't have such a target in mind, nothing would have come out of his wars, and the series of wars wouldn't have even made any sense.
Avoiding clashes against the Tokugawas, for instance, was something he decided and the thing the Oda clan followed, rather than continuing Oda Nobuhide's constant skirmishes. Offering Tokugawa Ieyasu to join him in an alliance in 1561 wasn't an easy job; General Takigawa Kazumasu, whom Oda entrusted the entire biz to, had to overcome the Oda clansmen's and vassals' own objections before proceeding at all (they of course didn't dare to say anything to Oda Nobunaga himself). A big part of the clan saw it as a chickenish way: "We can't avoid wars. That's disgraceful," they said. Oda's own thought was what he wrote to Tokugawa:
Tokugawa Ieyasu, despite his own clan's and vassals' objections, agreed with Oda Nobunaga on that. He had been absent for so long because he was held a hostage by the Imagawa clan since he was 5 years old (click here); his province was in no condition to wage useless and neverending little wars. Besides Toyotomi Hideyoshi, it looked like that Tokugawa was the only one who understood how Oda Nobunaga's grey cells worked.
Although Tokugawa grew despotic as he grew older, he wasn't a "do this or just stand there watch me doing it!" kind of man that Oda was. And he was always slow in deciding things; General Takigawa had to spend even longer time in negotiations with him for the alliance because Tokugawa's son and wife were still hostages at the hands of Imagawa Ujizane, the new Lord of Suruga, at the time. So he couldn't openly say he was Oda's ally lest Imagawa heard of it and immediately marched to his province with a large army. Tokugawa slowly changed the clansmen's minds and freed his family from the Imagawas first before signing the pact, in which his uncle Mizuno Nobutomo, Lord of Ogawa, helped a lot, because this uncle of Tokugawa's was Oda Nobunaga's vassal.
The weakness (and strength) of Oda Nobunaga's managerial style was in the same spot: he never cared to explain himself to the people that should have known him better.
It's a part of his temperament as well as a habitual trait. If your own wife spied on you (click here for story and pictures), your own mother assembled an army to kill you (click here for story and pictures), your brothers hatched assassination plans targeting your head (click here), your uncles killed your brothers (click here), and your Generals conspired with your enemies to crush your forts to ashes (click here), was it even sane to trust anyone with unspeakable things in your mind?
ODA & HIS MEN
Japan hasn't changed too radically between Oda Nobunaga's time and yours, when it comes to what makes society and how it is maintained.
The ideal relation between people in the Japanese minds -- even right this minute -- has always been rather vertical; there is you, your senior colleague ('sempai'), your peers ('doryo'), your boss, and your junior colleagues ('kohai') to whom you are a mentor, hence a 'sempai' yourself. If you have watched more than 5 movies and 5 anime, you'd know what I mean.
Such an organization is immune from the assault of time and unwashed by Emperor Meiji's drastic americanization in 1870's and undiluted by the defeat in World War II of 1945, not even erased by the flock of foreign managers imported since 1980's. What's going on now in the Japanese parliament (the Diet) and the so-called 'multinational corporations' such as Mitsubishi, Honda, Canon and Sony, are still essentially the same as in Japan in all times.
So, vertical allignment is natural to the Japanese even now, let alone in feudal times.
In Oda Nobunaga's 'household', the workings of this organizational mode can be clearly discerned. Oda's Generals who started out with him at Okehazama in 1560, like Shibata Katsuie, Niwa Nagahide, and Maeda Toshiie were all 'peers' to each other. Those Generals were 'seniors' to other Generals who came later to the Oda household -- Akechi Mitsuhide, Hosokawa Fujitaka, Takayama Ukon, were examples of 'Junior Generals'. So they were equal in military ranks, but never equal in social status.
Hence the grudge they bore toward Toyotomi Hideyoshi was very normal.
Toyotomi's 'social sin' was in layers: he was a late General, and he was, moreover, not a samurai by birth, yet Oda, assessing his men by abilities, put Toyotomi above all others as Chief of Staff in the campaign against the 'Western Mori' clan in 1581.
Oda was the only one who didn't subscribe to the notion of seniority/juniority -- he was consequent in this, as you can see that he even started out as a young warlord with just two districts in his power, yet he saw himself as equal with giants such as Takeda Shingen and Imagawa Yoshimoto.
"We're all warlords, that's all there is to me," he said.
But the Japanese, not just Takeda and Imagawa, never saw it that way (Tokugawa Ieyasu only shared Oda's view because it suited his purpose).
Oda's arrival in Kyoto in 1568, then, was universally seen there as a 'usurpation' -- even a 2005 movie (Kunitori Monogatari, released by Tokyo TV, starring Ito Hideaki) explained Oda Nobunaga's career as 'a national robber', because, so said the movie, Oda 'had no right to rule Japan' regardless of the facts in battlefields, since there was Takeda and Imagawa and Uesugi -- all those clans started out as Governors of a whole province, via official assignments released by the Ashikaga shogunate and the Emperor, while Oda Nobunaga never got such a mandate until Ashikaga Yoshiaki begged him for help; and his nationwide campaign was started, on the contrary, by elimination of the Governor of Owari (although it was not Oda Nobunaga who killed Governor Shiba; Shiba was a supporter of Nobunaga, and for that reason he was murdered by Nobunaga's rival Oda Nobutomo).
It's ridiculous that even today some 'samurai historians' always elaborate their merchandise in the tone of the Japanese in 16th century (always undermining Oda as an 'upstart' and implying that he was irreverent toward his 'seniors') while, incongruently, at the same time, persisting to apply their 21st century (and Christian, and caucasian) 'morals' to evaluate Oda's deeds. This airheadedness gets on my nerves all the time.
Anyway, for the Japanese society's organizational mode, see the Yakuza page (click here). The Yakuza is, as you have known, the one most obviously preserving the transparently pyramidal social perspective, but in this they are merely following what already has been within society in general.
Notions about Oda Nobunaga's leadership have been in the same tone as how most people rate his career. In this, they never fail to fail grasping the reality of the Japanese state of mind.
Feudalism is marked by the sort of leadership that, to the American so-called 'democracy', surely sucks. But Japan is still practicing this kind of leadership, no matter how it appears.
A Japanese leader, more than in other Asian nations, has always been free to exercise some despotism, authoritarianism, idiosyncrasy or even idiocy -- but only as long as he is able to fulfill what his underlings expect of him, and as long as he can hold their emotional or spiritual (because it is never logical) attachment to him.
The Japanese, even now, so it was more so in 1500's, expect their leader to be 'un-democratic'.
Don't raise your brows; you can't possibly have missed the glaring view of how Roman Catholic missionaries who roamed around Nagasaki in 1500's were seen. The gangling padres were respected for having brought African slaves and for having a Pope above all mortals in their address books, but laughed at for preaching that all men are equal before Christ, not just because this was against the evidence of the slavery, but also because this was seen as against Nature (see the Bushido page).
Expectations held of leaders ushered in the Age of Personalities that Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu grew up and came to power in.
All of them, also Uesugi Kenshin and Takeda Shingen, were forever seen as members of the League of Great Men, not because of their talent in administration, but because of their selves. That was enough for a leader in Japan. They 'only' had to show the type of leadership expected to be shown, and the rest of the ruling was their underlings' biz to tidy up.
Assesment of Tokugawa Ieyasu's greatness in organizing and administration are, if you would be so kind to remember, the invention of the 20th century, and a caucasian invention in that matter.
What mattered in Tokugawa's real life was that he showed the quality needed to lead the clan. Do you really think that Sakai Tadatsugu, Honda Heihachi, and all the Matsudaira elders handed the seat as Chief of the Tokugawa clan to Ieyasu when he was 8 years old and held as hostage in Suruga because of Ieyasu's greatness in management?
The core of Japanese leadership, including warlords', is (and has been) emotional, rather than logical. That's why the samurai sneered at the caucasian sentimentality when it came to women -- they couldn't understand why a knight in shining armor must risk everything to rescue damsels in distress. Samuraihood never contains such a 'weakness'. A samurai wept and wailed once in a while, but never over the so-called 'love' in the romantic sense of the word; it was always about their relation with their superiors or peers or parents.
Now, I hope, you began to get a portrait no matter how hazy about why Oda Nobunaga, a very unusual Japanese, with all his short temper and personal eccentricities, was nevertheless a leader of a large bunch of 'normal' warlords.
Do you think it was not easy to cut Oda's head off when he insisted on fighting Imagawa Yoshimoto's 25,000 soldiers in 1560, when all his clansmen wanted to surrender without fighting at all? No, it wouldn't have been difficult to do. Oda Nobunaga was virtually all by himself. He was only 26. He was no great warlord, the soldiers under hist direct command were no more than 200. He had never been in any big battle before. And he was seen by even peasants as 'Lord Fool'. But no one, not even Shibata Katsuie, whose temper was as short as Oda's, and who had actually rebelled against Oda once, slashed at him at the time.
I don't think so.
They had a fierce debate the night before the Okehazama battle, and everyone was boldly claiming to have been more experienced than Nobunaga was in the matter of warfare and governing, and as far as it was about the length of being in the business, they actually were. The only men who might have been taking Nobunaga's side and agreeing with him were not even eligible for casting a vote: Toyotomi Hideyoshi was still nothing but a personal attendant, Niwa Nagahide was only a Sergeant, and Maeda Toshiie was in exile (as a punishment for drawing his sword against a senior Oda man, Yamabuchi Ukon, Maeda had to be a masterless samurai at the time).
But, as they later said, "there was something in Oda Nobunaga" that silenced their opposition and made them resort to the code of loyalty even when they were convinced they would only die in vain for none other but the Lord Fool. This happened because Oda Nobunaga gave them time to say their say, and showed, afterwards, that he had made a decision to fight Imagawa no matter what and regardless of what had been said against this.
That is Japanese leadership. A leader was needed to give them a common goal. The fall of warlords, mind you, invariably happened when the men supposedly leading were unable to fix this common goal: you have seen it in the CV's of Saito Yoshitatsu, in Imagawa Ujizane, and so on. Hesitation was the worst trait in a leader; firmness and self-confidence were the traits valued highest. Oda Nobunaga never faltered in the latter. So he be a leader fulfilling his men's expectation. There was no secret to it.
The young Tokugawa Ieyasu, 18 years old at the time, just in case you forgot, also showed the same quality; that's why his clan, far away from him in his first 10 years of being their Chief, held on to their loyalty to him.
On the other hand, 'democratic' leadership always failed. And you know why: the Japanese, least of all the samurai, would never be able to respect an amiable boss. This includes fathers. A stern and commanding presence was the best; a warm one was the worst. Asking the men for advice and probing their thoughts about what was best to do would never be seen as evidence of good leadership; it would only drive the men away in disgust because such leaders seemed to know nothing to do.
THE ODA MEN
In feudalism, the problem of availability or alternately scarcity matters the most; it decided the outcome of a war even before the first shot was fired (oh yeah, they did fire it; Akechi Mitsuhide -- Oda's General -- was among the first firearm experts in 1570's Japan). To get enough people to go to war with, Oda made use of the convention followed by everybody in his time: he called up every warlord that he had beaten up some way back, and told them to form the front line. This was the most primitive (and easiest) way to test latest subordinates' loyalty. Oda rarely saw this to get carried on, though, because he always got up and galloped to the battlefield before anyone else knew what was going on.
The administrating job fell to his Generals, especially the peacemaker of the domestic Oda HQ, Lord Niwa Nagahide (click here for profiles of Oda's Generals and Captains). Oda's best General was Toyotomi Hideyoshi, but Niwa, Oda's brother in-law Lord Shibata Katsuie, and Maeda Toshiie, or even others including the Christian (Catholic) Lord Takayama Ukon were actually not too far behind Toyotomi's brilliance (click here for profiles and stories about Christian warlords and samurai).
The ranks of the Oda men, according to the Japanese pyramid, were like this (click here for profiles and pictures):
In the Japanese organizational machinery, the seniors have to get the priority for promotion and reward (even if the work was done by the juniors).
But Oda Nobunaga, like I have said in so many words before, didn't care a fig about how the convention was. To him, all Generals were the same, and he meant both in military ranking and in social status. And in both, Toyotomi Hideyoshi was his choice to supersede the rest.
In 1570's every other clan knew what made Oda Nobunaga's 'Fantastic Four' -- the indispensible Generals -- Niwa, Toyotomi, Maeda, and Shibata. The first three were faithful to Oda Nobunaga all their lives, only Oda's relative Shibata was always kind of dubious. He even championed the perenially-scheming brother of Nobunaga's, Oda Nobuyuki, in a war against Nobunaga in the succession period after their dad Nobuhide died (click here).
Oda Nobunaga was always preferring the company of men of his own generation rather than 'seniors' because he thought those 'old-fashioned' and conservative and against every thought he had the mind to do. Oda also disliked mere followers, i.e. persons looking up to him, because his temper was always shortened by 'stupidity' and all-out submission. So he had no 'seniors' and no 'juniors' around the inner circle -- only 'peers'. This was one of the most obvious difference between Oda and other warlords. He only felt comfortable with people from his own generation.
Niwa Nagahide, who was 2 years younger than Oda Nobunaga, came from a respectable samurai clan, too small to create havoc but not at all weak when it came to warfare. The Niwas had always been supporters of Oda's clan since before both Nobunaga and Nagahide were born. They knew each other since childhood, though Niwa wasn't as close as Maeda and Ikeda were to Oda in the formative years of their lives. When both were kids, Oda Nobunaga only met Niwa on martial art practice, in this case at Niwa's specialty: swordsplay. Niwa didn't share Oda's passion for horses and archery.
Niwa himself was a strong-willed but rather quiet man, and never resorted to brawlish stuff even when all things were heated up and the atmosphere was full of tension. Oda Nobunaga's temper was always held in check when it came to Niwa -- and, quite surprising to Oda himself, he was never able to get mad at Niwa no matter what. Niwa's own feeling and thought about Oda Nobunaga was clear -- he fell ill right after getting the news of Oda's death in 1582, and spent the rest of his life in an obvious vacuum, missing the only man he respected.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi, 2 years younger than Oda, as we all have known, was kind of easygoing, and he was a bit adoring Oda Nobunaga -- none of the others were, although they respected him. Among all Generals, Toyotomi was the only one who shared Oda's worldview -- influenced by the fact that he came from a totally different becakground compared to other Generals, hence he, for example, understood perfectly Oda's system of assessing people via merit, while all others could't make sense of it. Toyotomi also rose up in the world on his own. This made him the only one to share Oda's strong individualism. Toyotomi's closeness to Oda extended to Maeda Toshiie and Ikeda Shonyu (5 years younger than Oda); both were Oda's 'friends' since childhood.
Some insist that this was only a proof of Toyotomi's strategy to get close to Oda, i.e. by gluing himself tothe people that Oda liked most. But existing records show that Toyotomi, Maeda and Ikeda seem to have been genuinely liking each other, and the friendship wasn't faked. Besides, there is no way you can refute the fact that Oda took Toyotomi into his household first before Maeda and Ikeda even saw him. Oda, maybe, like his biographer in 16th century said, also found Toyotomi refreshing because Toyotomi was the only 'civilian' around -- Toyotomi shared nothing whatsoever with Oda in martial arts, since he was to be the one and only General who would have lost in a duel against anyone under his command in any kind of martial art.
Maeda Toshiie, one year younger than Nobunaga, was considered wise and quick to comprehend and act accordingly, although he never saw things exactly like Oda Nobunaga did. In this Maeda provided an alternative worldview to Nobunaga -- a frame of mind that was not novel and eccentric, but not conventional either. Oda Nobunaga knew Maeda Toshiie since they were both little boys; Maeda, since he was 5 to 12 years old, was Oda's 'personal attendant', i.e. friend to play with (in this 'playgroup' was also Ikeda Shonyu). They shared passions for karate and riding, but splitted up as early as Oda specialized in archery and Maeda in spearmanship.
Both Maeda and Oda never cared to adopt 'intellectual' pretensions such as loving poetry and such (at least when young). As a result, Oda's tutor Hirate Masahide often grounded Maeda Toshiie whenever Oda Nobunaga skipped sedentary schooling (punishing the attendant and not the culprit was all he could do anyway). There was never any shred of doubt about Maeda's loyalty to Oda all their lives -- Oda had known this since they were both kids. Therefore, what Maeda said mattered.
Each of all three could do diplomatic missions if needed, in their own ways that somehow promised success even before undertaken.
Shibata Katsuie, 3 years older than Oda Nobunaga, was a warrior through and through, in the Viking-like sense of the word. None of the men in Oda's camp could match his prowess in battlefield, but that's all that he could do. Shibata was a dubious character, possessing immoderate ambitions, had actually raised an army to dethrone Oda Nobunaga when both were young, and could only be subdued by physical strength -- that's the only reason why he submitted himself under Oda Nobunaga's leadership.
This 'country boar' (that's what courtiers said of Shibata) was awkward in non-formal gatherings. Oda Nobunaga had known this cousin of his since both were babies, so he was aware of all Shibata's worth and worthlessness. He gave amnesty to Shibata even when people expected him to cut Shibata head's off after he failed to assassinate Oda. The pardon came because Oda knew he could match Shibata in a man-to-man combat, and Shibata knew this, too; that's the only thing he could respect.
"If Katsuie uses his ferocity against my enemies as fully as he did against me, wouldn't that be nice?" was Nobunaga's reply to the amazement of his clansmen on Shibata's full release after the attempted coup.
Most of Oda's Generals were lords, that means lands; only Toyotomi came with no single speck of land when serving the Oda clan -- he was only a landless farmer's son. The most prominent of Oda's military 'family' were traditionally called 'the Standard Bearers' ('hatamoto' in Japanese). They all had their own flags in each and every single battle under Oda's command. They had their own armies, to start with; Oda didn't have to give them soldiers to lead -- except to Toyotomi. 30 lancers were assigned to Toyotomi when he was just beginning his career.
From a Captain up, every Oda vassal had the right to recruit anybody they saw fit. Say, if you are recruited by Toyotomi, your immediate and automatic loyalty is to him; you see Oda Nobunaga as your commander's Commander, so Oda gets your faith by extension. If you are really good but Toyotomi doesn't need you, or you don't get along well with him but your skill is good for the army in general, he might propose to Oda to take you in as Oda's own man. That way you would get to any rank Oda thinks you fit into, and your relation with Toyotomi is as with other divisions' Chiefs. You and your wife and kids and mom and dogs and spinster aunts will live in or around your immediate commander's vicinity. So you have to leave the Nagahama castle (Toyotomi's home, click here for pictures) and replant your dear ones at Nagoya, Kiyosu, Komaki, Gifu, or Azuchi castle (Oda's HQ's, in chronological order -- click here to see pictures).
Other worthy members were Sakuma Nobumori, Araki Murashige, Gamo Ujisato, Nakagawa Sebei, Tsutsui Junkei, Mori Yoshinari, Asano Nagamasa, and Takigawa Kazumasu. Most of them were always loyal -- to Oda and to his successor Toyotomi (click here to see a movie where a dazzlingly beautiful ninja girl kills Asano Nagamasa and Kato Kiyomasa). Oda's valet Mori Ranmaru also fought whenever there was a war, since that's a part of his job, as was the custom of the age -- he was not the valet of the Prince of Wales, for God's sake. Personally Mori was perhaps the closest person to Oda Nobunaga, who notoriously couldn't stand nearly everybody except Toyotomi (click here for his pictures).
About recruitments, here is an example. Hori Kyutaro, a great scout, sniper and archer, was recruited by Toyotomi; he came from a declining samurai family, and his interaction with Oda was nominal. Toyotomi accidentally found him in the mountains during a preliminary prep for war against the Takeda clan, and Hori okay-ed the offer to serve under his command at once. Recruitments in this most man-to-man way was often those days, and most reliable anyway rather than later-day system of faceless absorption of the workforce into the Japanese Imperial Army and police departments (click here for the last samurai stand against the national army).
How did the nearly equally strong warlords or Generals work together under Oda Nobunaga? Here are some representative instances.
THE TOYOTOMI - MAEDA - SHIBATA TRIANGLE
Lord Ikeda Shonyu and General Maeda Toshiie (1539-1599) were Toyotomi's personal buddies although they served directly under Oda's command. Tradition said that the households of Maeda and Toyotomi, way back in time when they were in their twenties, often did what lower-middle class housekeeping necessitates in any era: borrowing some rice, exchanging leftovers of dinners, and so forth. Some even said that Maeda Toshiie used to date the woman who would be Toyotomi's wife, Asano Nene (click here for story and pictures), and that the matchmaker for the resulted wedding of Toyotomi and the Asano daughter was Oda Nobunaga's own brother, Oda Nagamasu, who would be famous in his own rights long after Nobunaga was no more (click here for story and pictures).
Oda Nobunaga liked both Toyotomi and Maeda. While everyone called Toyotomi 'Sir Monkey' because of his physical characteristics, Maeda Toshiie was said to be very handsome. But Oda nicknamed him 'Dog' ('Inu' in Japanese) without any malicious intent; the Japanese believe that dogs and monkeys can't get along together (just the opposite of the belief of Indonesians), so Maeda-Toyotomi friendship was something extraordinary to him. The nickname was good-humoredly accepted by Maeda himself, so that some people called him 'Inuchiyo'.
After Oda Nobunaga died in 1582, Toyotomi and Shibata came to blows over the succession -- both of them showily made a pretense to backup one of Oda's sons each. Later, Toyotomi preferred Oda's grandson, and in this he was challenged by Tokugawa Ieyasu who took the side of the surviving Oda's son. Click here for story and pictures of this episode.Anyway, in the war against Shibata Katsuie, a complication that was usual those days arose.
Maeda Toshiie and his son Toshinaga were both living in and working from a couple of castles within Lord Shibata's territory. Since the Maeda clan was considerably smaller than Shibata's, automatically it was bowing to the Shibata clan, for practical reasons -- even if they loved to die honorable death in combat, the 16th century Japanese, they were rational; Maeda's allies were geographically too far to be asked for help just in case.
Well, this put the clan under a nerve-wrecking situation when Shibata-Toyotomi war ensued, to be sure; and there Maeda Toshiie's smart choice that made him famous until today (this was only one of many that he has been remembered of making, clanwisely speaking) was decided.
Shibata sent an order to him to get his men armed for the war under his banner against Toyotomi.
Maeda received this order calmly, while his son wondered what they should do because 'uncle Hide' couldn't possibly forced on them as an enemy.
Maeda Toshiie prepared his clansmen to go to war, but didn't really go to war -- a predictable choice, and yet it was subtly executed in the Japanese way that no one lost face (which meant losing it with the entire head, those days). The Shibata clan could see the preps and so they had no reason to complain of insubordination; they were not shamed by it, either; Shibata ninjas returned to report to their Lord that Maeda Toshiie did stock ammo and such between 1582 and 1583, and call up irregular army for backup, and attend strategic meetings, so Shibata cancelled his plan to crush the Maedas --this was Shibata's plan, which must be done first before marching on to meet Toyotomi's army, if Maeda wasn't at his side.
Meanwhile, Toyotomi Hideyoshi was thinking the same thought, or somewhere around it; he was the most emotional of all 16th century warlords, and prized old acquaintances and familial ties, so this was difficult for him, too. He planned an emergency measure to be taken only if his old buddy Maeda Toshiie really fought him, but it would not to be manifested if Maeda only did so in apparent reluctance.
So Toyotomi's army prepared to attack the two Maedas, as well, but their guidebook was sort of laid-back.
The day of the battle came sooner than Shibata planned it to come, because Oda Nobutaka, his nephew, Nobunaga's third son on whose behalf he waged the war, proclaimed war too soon. Shibata Katsuie and his notorious nephew, a 28 year-old General Sakuma Genba, famous for being super-brawlish (and never lost against anyone before), fought Toyotomi and lost. Sakuma was caught and, because he refused to turncoat, died by an executioner (because he also refused to kill himself).
Shibata himself only had a few hundred soldiers left after 1583, and they retreated to the only safe place, a place that Shibata thought to be dubious: Maeda Toshiie's territory.
Shibata expected him to show the true color now, since by then he knew Maeda put the faraway Toyotomi's friendship above loyalty to the nearest stronger warlord -- himself. If Maeda finished the remains of the Shibata army now, no one would blame him or call him a chicken. Assassinating enemy Lords seeking sanctuary (and they could be enemies the instant they lost the war outside) was a common practice those days, and turncoating at the last minute was normal.
But Shibata was safe in the Maeda castle.
The host got him medical treatments and refreshed the Shibata men's supplies.
And one morning, when Shibata's army marched out again to fight their last fight, Maeda snipers escorted them with the order to blow up anybody threatening Shibata Katsuie along the way, including if the threat came from Toyotomi's men.
Shibata Katsuie rarely glowed in any warmth of kindness, but this time he did; his biographers noted how touched he was at this Maeda generosity in the tome they were to write later. "I wish I knew you better," Shibata said to Maeda when he was about to leave the castle; "Now I know how much I have had missed all these times!"
And it was even more than he already got.
When Toyotomi Hideyoshi's army were nearing the Maeda borders, Toshiie ordered his men to open fire. He wouldn't let his own land to get trampled by soldiers of other clans -- that's the utmost honor of a warlord that we're talking about -- and Toyotomi knew it, too, so he didn't take it as an offense.
That labyrinthine Maeda way of preserving peace in his own territory and saving everyone's faces are well-remembered until this day.
After Shibata's death, Toyotomi visited Maeda and they resumed their old relation as always.
Friendship dictated some sort of loyalty to some degree, but the Maeda-Toyotomi case was not a typical occurence those days (click here for pictures of places where Toyotomi, Maeda and Ikeda Shonyu used to hang out together).
THE ARAKI - TAKAYAMA - KURODA TRIANGLE
When Oda's Catholic General Araki Murashige rebelled in 1578 -- out of unclear reasons, and the episode still baffles historians today -- Oda Nobunaga made use of the Jesuits that he knew. He gave them a permit to build a church, but in return he asked them to dissuade Lord Takayama Ukon, also a Catholic, who was Araki Murashige's long-time buddy and also fellow-General in the Oda joint forces, from joining the rebels.
Takayama didn't plan to, actually; but he was given an ultimatum by Araki, who held Takayama's family members as hostages within his heavily fortified castle.
Knowing how hard it was then for Takayama Ukon to decide anything at all, Oda resorted to the 'secret weapon' that he had; the deploy of Roman Catholic priests to the rescue, led by the Italian Father Gnecchi.
Hearing that Oda was trying to prevent Takayama from joining him, Araki Murashige released the hostages by the brokerage of the Jesuit missionaries, thinking that now Takayama would feel grateful and take up arms for his cause.
It was a castle in the air.
Once the hostages reached the Takayama clan's territory, the head of the clan marched his army -- to join Oda Nobunaga's.
THE TAKENAKA - TOYOTOMI - KURODA TRIO
In another time, in 1581, there was (still another Catholic) Captain Kuroda Kanbei, Oda Nobunaga's own recruit, but he was assigned to assist Toyotomi in the war against the Mori clan, and stayed a 'Toyotomi man' since. Kuroda was already a famous warrior with a strong troop of his own when he joined the Oda clan; he served the Odera clan before that.
A young and tradition said wisest General, the 28 years-old Takenaka Hanbei of Bodai, was Toyotomi's advisor, tutor and confidante; Toyotomi himself spent weeks on top of the cold cliffs around Takenaka's dwelling to ask him to join in, after the young General prematurely retired from his service for the Saito clan of Mino, on medical reasons (he had TB) as well as personal ones (the new head of the clan was a total pain in the neck).
Takenaka liked Toyotomi enough that he didn't even blink when he, once he agreed to the proposal, was relegated to the rank of Captain. He never got to be a General again because he has already passed away when Toyotomi became a 'Taiko' (so his former Captains were at once made Generals). When it came to Oda, Takenaka only saw him as THE General, and had no interpersonal relationship with him. He refused Toyotomi's offer to promote him to the rank of General -- it means he would cease to follow Toyotomi and become Oda's own man (click here for story & pictures of Takenaka Hanbei).
Oda Nobunaga had the right to assign duties to his Generals' followers, so he gave one to Takenaka once -- to kill Kuroda Shojumaru, Kanbei's son, as a punishment for his dad who (so Oda thought) turned against him when Araki Murashige proclaimed desertion of his entire clan against the Odas. Toyotomi Hideyoshi was stunned to hear this, but his shower of protests were brushed off by Oda Nobunaga's famous "Shut up!".
Oda Nobunaga actually did trust Kuroda. But he also gave an equal amount of consideration that Kuroda, as his own dad was still a vassal of the enemy clan, might turn against him. "Better see it as though the worst has happened," Oda said to the broken-hearted Toyotomi. "Get out of my way and tell Takenaka to bring the kid's head to me a.s.a.p. as a punishment for Kuroda."
Imagine Takenaka's situation upon receiving this order -- Kuroda was not only his colleague, but his very best friend. To Shojumaru, he was 'uncle Hanbei'. But a lot more than that he couldn't possibly kill the boy, not because of their personal ties, but because Takenaka believed 100% that Kuroda Kanbei was innocent. In this he was right, although he didn't knew it yet at the time: Kuroda Kanbei was tricked by Araki Murashige, captured and imprisoned in the rebel's castle.
But when Oda Nobunaga got mad no living thing could bear it. So Takenaka just said to Oda's messenger that he would "do what I deem best to do, in the interest of Lord Oda."
Without openly resisting the order, both Toyotomi and Takenaka did all they could to prove Kuroda's innocence. Both of them risked losing their lives for delaying the execution as long as possible, since the rule said if a vassal did such a thing it was a capital crime, militarily speaking; Oda could have asked them to commit suicide ('seppuku').
Oda Nobunaga, when his wrath subsided, was glad that at least his letter to Takenaka Hanbei was worded "to carry this order at the time you think best", something he wrote because he was, though in great anger, minding Takenaka's frail health at the time. He knew that Takenaka was in the last stage of TB, and he knew that his consideration of Takenaka's condition could be interpreted in any way Takenaka liked. This was as close as Oda Nobunaga could get to a regret.
What Oda did after delivering the order was to pretend as if he had forgotten all about it, and tried not to notice the suspended execution as long as he could, too (it was disgraceful for a Lord to overlook obvious disobedience like that, so Oda also risked losing face here).
After Toyotomi's best ninja Watanabe succeeded in breaking into the prison and smuggled Captain Kuroda out (accidentally meeting a Takenaka ninja Kumataro with the same purpose there), Takenaka rode to Azuchi and met Oda Nobunaga, taking Kuroda Shojumaru with him.
Kuroda Kanbei was to be unable to walk without using a stick from that day, injured when escaping his pursuers from the Araki clan. He didn't go to Azuchi and didn't request a meeting with Oda Nobunaga. Instead, he headed straight back to his camp (Toyotomi's camp in Western Japan). By doing this, he proved his loyalty to Oda Nobunaga, expressed gratefulness to Toyotomi, and maintained his innocence. Kuroda, thru this same act, also asserted his indignance at being wrongly accused.
Oda Nobunaga understood the latter as well as the rest of Kuroda's motives for 'snubbing' him, so he wasn't offended. Both Kuroda and his son were, of course, pardoned of the 'crimes' they didn't commit (click here for story and pictures of Toyotomi Hideyoshi's men). Only, to save dignity, Oda said he would whack Toyotomi himself if Toyotomi ever mentioned this case of his rashness again.
A warlord was also a ruler of his own province (or in Oda's case provinces). So he made the laws, he appointed officers for the civil service, including and most importantly as usual in a feudal society, the Internal Revenue Office.
Everything was measured in rice, in 16th-century Japan. Salaries and wages were paid in rice, tax was, too, so was everyone's wealth. Money existed, but it was not as predominant as today. Peasants often starved during this 'Warring States Period', even if their harvest was okay; they were taxed like heck by the nearest warlord. Every samurai war always involved burning and destroying of rice fields, while bandits robbed the harvest punctually every year (click here for a historically-correct visualization of real life of Japanese peasants in Oda Nobunaga's time).
Oda Nobunaga got some officers to mind the tax, like other warlords, but he didn't strangle the villagers by unaffordable taxes like you might have thought. Records show that Oda's taxes were average, meaning wasn't higher than the usual warlord's demand of the time. Just because he was the most powerful warlord by the end of 1570's didn't mean he lived like kings (a 16th century Japanese never knew how Arabian kings lived, anyway).
Most of Oda's wealth were poured back down as grants and gifts for his vassals, to finance construction projects all around his territory (forts and temples), to build palaces for the Imperial Family and the Shoguns in Kyoto, to keep his firearm factory going, to fill up the Emperors' treasury (Emperor Go-Nara and Emperor Ogimachi), to enable the Shoguns to live in luxury (Ashikaga Yoshiteru and Ashikaga Yoshiaki), to give away as routine donations to religious bodies (oh yes, he was very ordinary in such things), and, of course, to update his war-related stuff and to finance the wars.
As an overlord, Oda could rely more on tributes from lesser-ranked warlords under his wings rather than on choking average citizens within his territory by impossible rates of tax.
Besides minting his own coins, Oda Nobunaga abolished the network of toll-booths that had been plaguing the route to and from Japan's capital city of the time, Kyoto. This was a very popular policy -- I mean the deletion of such booths from the map of Oda Nobunaga's Japan. He disliked the practice himself, based on the experience of travelling undercover from Kiyosu (imagine today's Nagoya) to Kyoto, to see Emperor Ogimachi and Shogun Ashikaga Yoshiteru, in mid-1560's.
Other warlords dreamed of going to Kyoto with the largest army they could assemble. Oda Nobunaga went to Kyoto for real accompanied by less than 50 bodyguards, that's all, and even this band didn't travel in one clot, to avoid being recognized (which would have meant detainment and execution) along the way, as they had to cross several other warlords' borders.
Well, at least Oda Nobunaga had the money to pay the extollers at those infamous booths; average travellers sometimes didn't, and masterless samurai often fought with their lives at stake just to pass the booths without paying.
Anyway, Oda ended this unpopular way of taxation, and swept the public passages in remote areas clean from robbers and such, since 1568.
Most people -- historians included -- just wouldn't take warlords as policymakers, except Tokugawa Ieyasu and Minamoto Yoritomo. But Oda Nobunaga, in real life, had his own civilian -- economic -- stuff to his credit: he released something called 'rakuichi', and another thing named 'rakuza'. The first was regulation about shops, like, all shops in Azuchi were free from taxes, so they were to sell their merchandise duty-free; the second was abolition of merchants' unions.
This might sound like some authoritarian measure, and no difference from the Tokugawa shogunate's disdain toward the class of merchants, but it was, actually, not the same. Oda's rakuza was launched not because of his and his men's insolvent debts to the merchants (that was Tokugawa's reason, among others), but because to him prices at shops were too high and made average townsperson broke just after purchasing anything at all. To the unions of merchants, somehow the fact that they drove away most people from their shops wasn't even thinkable. Oda dissolved this cartel-like union, and let the biz to get restarted by a 'free market', i.e. individual enterpreneurs.
Hence what Oda Nobunaga did was quenching the proto-yakuza (click here for history and pictures of the Japanese yakuza). It was a popular measure.
Oda also appointed judges of the peace, mayors, governors, and so on, mostly based on merits like promotions in his own armed forces -- the exceptions were motivated by his promises to the warlords he had beaten, and almost never done out of considerations about protecting his power (which was both Toyotomi's and Tokugawa's motive when they give governmental posts to people after Oda died).
Oda actually wasn't interested in administration of anything, but he did it anyway because that was expected of him. Toyotomi was as everybody knows a much better administrator, and Tokugawa was as everyone agrees the very best.
Whatever else Oda was guilty of, he never misjudged his own self: he realized and acknowledged the fact that his gift wasn't in 'civilian' stuff.
So he only made the most basic of the law, since the most important thing is that chaos wouldn't have a chance to ensue. As the most powerful overlord in the Shogun's and Emperor's service, he fulfilled his duty to preserve tranquility of Kyoto first -- his best man for the job, Niwa Nagahide, was to be assigned to the post of Kyoto's military official side by side with the civilian governorship held by Murai Nagato and chief supervisor Maeda Geni.
Oda's order to them all was rather childishly simple: "No brawl, no thief, everyone to his own job!".
According to Toyotomi's biographers, during the first week of Oda's rule in Kyoto in 1568, several soldiers of the Oda Army were sentenced to die for extorting 'tributes' from civilians. This was a primitive insurance given to the population of the city that Oda was serious about the 'no thief' thing.
Merchants were not yet a force, unlike what they would be under the Tokugawa shogunate. But they were mostly supporting Oda Nobunaga not just because they had no choice under gunpoint. Oda Nobunaga had no debt to merchants -- that's something incredible compared to how vast Tokugawa Shoguns would get sunken in debts to the same class since 1700. He never imposed unpayable taxes to them, either. What he did was encouraging them to take up export and import biz; something that Oda's interests were connected with. The merchants' only complaint was that Oda Nobunaga hadn't yet conquered any spot outside the main island; because the greatest nightmare for merchants were pirates around Kyushu isles -- whose warlords were independent (click here for story and pictures of these warlords).
Oda Nobunaga gave lands to his Generals and Captains -- or added some to what they already got, if they came from well-to-do clans -- according to merits, too.
Even Toyotomi Hideyoshi, when he fought 'invisibly' against the Takeda clan, didn't get any share of the spoils.
In this kind of biz Toyotomi also made a great mistake once in 1580's. He talked the Ukita clan into pledging loyalty to Oda Nobunaga when the Odas were having their war against the 'Western Mori' clan, which was the Ukitas' bosses. Toyotomi went to see Oda already with some official documents of the deal. Oda got very mad at Toyotomi, because he planned to crush the Ukitas and seized their territory and cut it up for his Generals as rewards. Somehow this was solved, by slicing up Toyotomi's gains of Mori's lands, while the peace treaty with the Ukita was affirmed by Oda.
Once someone was given a territory, for example Hosokawa Fujitaka and Akechi Mitsuhide got half of the Tamba province each by the end of 1570's, they got the right (which was at once a duty) to concentrate their armies around the area whenever some emergency situation occured, even when the rest of the Oda Generals were going to war elsewhere. The Hatano clan of Tamba took the chance, when Hosokawa's and Akechi's attention was absorbed by the Western Japan at the time, to raise a battle flag. Although Toyotomi Hideyoshi needed backups in the 'Western Mori' domain, Akechi and Hosokawa left the forces to defend their counties from the Hatanos. That was okay with Oda Nobunaga, because it was the way of warlordism. But if nothing to worry about was at the homebase of a General's, yet he didn't show up when summoned to war, that would have, of course, meant insubordination.
THE ODA LEGACY
The upside of having an overlord such as Oda Nobunaga above the warlords was in case a real big uprising or all-out attack from the outside fell upon the warlords. Oda's resources would bail them out, and he would send other Generals to the scene to help the one in the cleft. The receiver of this help didn't have to pay the helpers later, unlike in an alliance. Whoever was sent there by Oda did it 'for free', i.e. because they were ordered to. Rewards and such were Oda's business, not the Generals'. That's practical and sensible. If they made alliances by themselves, the allies wouldn't have been so reliable. That's why smaller-scaled lords joined Oda Nobunaga rather than becoming independent -- which also, by the way, meant risking to be Oda's enemies if he happened to want to move around the territory.
Oda took care of his men via their own clans, too, like in the case of Maeda Toshiie and his 'head of the clan' status.
When the Maeda senior died, it was Maeda Toshiie that got the legacy, despite the fact that he was only the 4th of 7 sons of the head of the clan's, while all his older brothers were just as capable of leadership -- unlike the usual case when some younger ones got the inheritance due to gross incompetence of their older siblings.
Things like this would have been impossible without an overlord. Oda Nobunaga took the title and gave it to Maeda just like that; without Oda's 'busybodyism', Maeda Toshiie might have to wage war against his own brothers before getting the title.
Similarly Oda also lifted up Tsutsui Junkei, Sassa Narimasa, and Harada Naomasa within their own clans, while to 'upstarts' -- those who didn't come from a mentionable family -- he gave the permission to found new clans. This happened in the case of Toyotomi's men, like Hori Kyutaro, Horio Mosuke, Konishi Yukinaga, as well as Oda's own Captains such as Takayama Ukon.
Most of Oda Nobunaga's men would stay prominent as warlords in the next era and the next; in 1868, during the Meiji Restoration, the warlords playing significant roles there (the Meiji era wasn't just made and shaped by low-ranked samurai, you know!) were descendants of Oda Nobunaga's vassals (see Meiji Confusion page).
Oda's own policy when it came to foreign countries was the precedent the Meiji administration followed.
If you still believe in the routine assertion that Oda Nobunaga was a loveless, merciless, bloodlusty tyrant who had never done anything good for Japan, then you really have no idea what leading Japanese warlords was all about.
And you would, then, have nothing whatsoever to serve as explanation of why none of those warlords joined Akechi Mitsuhide when he 'liberated' Japan from the 'dictatorship' of Oda Nobunaga's in June 1582, and why they, instead, rose to punish Akechi for it.
You would also never know why Niwa Nagahide never recovered from losing Oda, and why Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu were both loyal to Oda Nobunaga until the end of his life.
SOME OF ODA NOBUNAGA'S MEN
If you wonder why Oda's valet Mori Ranmaru gets into this box, click his pic.
W A R S
you share your Oda Nobunaga pictures?
& Rap © 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001,
Sources I tapped for this page: Nihon Shakai no Kazoku teki Kosei (Tokyo: 1948); Kono Shozo, Kokumin Dotoku Yoron (Tokyo: 1935); Anesaki Masaharu, Nichiren, the Buddhist Prophet (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1916); Robert Cornell Armstrong, Light from the East, Studies of Japanese Confucianism (University of Toronto, Canada, 1914); Sasama Yoshihiko, Nihon kassen zuten (Yuzankaku, 1997); William Aston, Shinto: The Way of the Gods (London: Longmans, Green, 1905); Ruth Benedict, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1946); Charles Eliot, Japanese Buddhism (London, 1935); Futaki Kenichi, Chuusei buke no saho (Yoshikawa Kobunkan, 1999); Kiyooka Eichii, The Autobiography of Fukuzawa Yukichi (Tokyo, Hokuseido Press, 1934); Konno Nobuo, Kamakura bushi monogatari (Kawade shobo shinsha, 1997); Nukariya Kaiten, The Religion of the Samurai (London: Luzac, 1913); A.L. Sadler, The Beginner's Book of Bushido by Daidoji Yuzan (Tokyo: Kokusai Bunka Shinkokai, 1941); Satomi Kishio, Nichirenism and the Japanese National Principles (NY: Dutton, 1924); Suzuki D.T., Zen Buddhism and Its Influence on Japanese Culture (Kyoto: The Eastern Buddhist Society, 1938); Henri Van Straelen, Yoshida Shoin (Leiden: Brill, 1952); Robert Bellah, Tokugawa Religion; Masaaki Takahashi, Bushi no seiritsu: Bushizo no soshutsu (Tokyo: Tokyo daigaku, 1999); Paul Akamatsu, Meiji 1868, Revolution and Counter-Revolution (Allen & Unwin, 1972); Nitobe Inazo, Bushido, The Soul of Japan (Tokyo: Tuttle, 1970); Paul Varley and Ivan Morris, The Samurai (Weidenfeld, 1970); Nakane Chie, Japanese Society (Tokyo, Tuttle, 1973); Inoguchi and Nakajima, The Divine Wind: Japanese Kamikaze Force in World War II (Hutchinson, 1959), Seki Yukihiko, Bushi no tanjo (Tokyo: NHK, 2000); Amino Yoshihiko, ed. Edojidai no mikataga kawaruho (Tokyo: Yosensha, 1998).