Oda Nobunaga inherited the Nagoya castle after his 7th birthday, in which he was the master, and since then he kept moving on getting more and more areas to add to the tiny legacy. To get there meant to do what every other warlord in 16th century Japan did: kicking everyone else out of the area (click here to see pictures). So the first conquests were not far from home.

His brother Oda Nobuyuki, who was reared by their mom (Nobunaga grew up virtually by himself, like I said he got a separate house from the family), challenged the inheritance that their dad gave to Nobunaga. This contestant was backed up by Oda's mom and uncles in 1555. They got into a war, and of course the mom and uncles were of no use to Oda Nobuyuki. Yet, his notoriously bad-tempered brother, against all predictions, forgave him. He didn't even do anything to his cousin Shibata Katsuie, who also supported Oda Nobuyuki in the plan to assassinate Nobunaga -- Shibata was an active member in the conspiracy. Before that, another relative, Oda Nobutomo, assembled an army and attacked Oda Nobunaga for the same inheritance. This 1552 internal war ended with deaths. Oda Nobukata came last, wanting the same meager legacy, and he, too, lost badly in the war against Nobunaga.

Nobunaga's dad Oda Nobuhide was a locally well-esteemed manowar, but he didn't have any thought beyond the family's own borders. And this legacy that Nobunaga got for free was very small (2 districts); in the same province of Owari there was a branch of the Oda clan called 'Iwakura Odas' that held the largest part of the province (8 districts) and refused to unite with Nobunaga's 'Kiyosu Odas' -- these 'Iwakura Odas' declared themselves vassals of Lord Imagawa Yoshimoto of Suruga instead. So Oda Nobunaga had to fight them for supremacy within the clan first, too (click here for details). After which, he started out his nationwide campaign as.....



Threatened by the surrounding older and stronger and hungrier warlords of 1567, Nobunaga decided to earn the reputation as the Lord Fool of Japan (even rural busybodies constantly sneered at the 'baka-dono' at the time). This complete neglect of politix, downright weird attitude towards everything, quick temper without needing any fusilage, and so on, broke many hearts and prompted a suicide of one of Oda Nobuhide's old advisors, Hirate Masahide (click here for the story and pictures related to this episode), who was in charge of the educational process of Nobunaga as the late father asked him to. From attitude to the way he dressed, Oda Nobunaga was, according to his contemporaries, downright weird (click here to see how weird).

This 'Lord Fool' title was easily gotten just by dressing up like nobody else ever did in Japan -- like, donning some leopard-skin-patterned jacket with one sleeve (not altogether strange, this; Japanese shirts got such impractical sleeves that must have made archers like Oda Nobunaga felt like being in straight-jacket of a German mad house). When hunting, usually an 16th century Japanese let one of the sleeves loose at the side of the body. That's even weirder (and very far from neat) than Oda Nobunaga's practical solution to the problem. Oda Nobunaga also didn't shave the hair off his front of the head after coming of age -- he liked the 'ronin-style' and let his hair grew long, tying it up in a bun. Yet, even the oh-so-experienced-in-worldly-ways Lord Saito Dosan, Oda's father in-law, believed that he had given his daughter's hands in marriage to an incurable wacko (click here for story and pictures).

Hence he was universally thought of as a total failure and completely harmless, by his neighbors. They thought he went horse-racing when actually he practiced archery; they heard that he went swimming in spring when the truth was he rehearsed fighting in water. And so forth. Then, all of a sudden, he was the head of the clan. This means a province, more or less, was his very own. The internal wars within the Oda clan that led to this shocked everybody outside Owari, and yet Nobunaga's image was, in many places, still of the Lord Fool.



All that changed by his first great victory at Okehazama in 1560 (click here for details), against the Imagawa clan of Suruga that, accidentally, was holding Tokugawa Ieyasu hostage for a decade (click here to see him in this battle).

In this war that marked the start of Oda Nobunaga's nationwide campaign (but he didn't acknowledge so in public until his hold of Gifu in 1570's; click here for story and pictures), Oda Nobunaga had only 3,000 people under his command, and they were not even a structured joint army -- that's why Oda based his assessment of loyalty on this battle.

Oda went out of his castle of Kiyosu only accompanied by his valets in the morning of the battle. 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.

These 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, you said? 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 exaggerated number of his soldiers 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. Just a simple Math was enough to justify the fear.

So they marched to war that morning not because they had 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 (btw click here for history of the Japanese armors).

Tokugawa Ieyasu made the right decision then: after showing off his fake loyalty to the Imagawas by taking down one or two castles around the Oda borders, he intentionally withhold his clan from joining in the battle at Imagawa's side right when it met the Oda army. When Oda, as he had predicted, won the 'impossible gamble', he was thereby free from the Imagawas.

And after that, no one dared to remember how grossly wrong they had been about the particular fool of Owari.

Click here for why this episode of June 1560 put Oda Nobunaga into the teachings of Zen Buddhism.




Oda Nobunaga's dream of a Japan United was to get realized thru a procedure that was conventional enough: every piece of land around Kyoto must be secured first, hence Central Japan -- or Central Honshu -- was the first that he targeted to get conquered. Only after that he turned to Western Japan, and in his plan the Eastern Japan was next, the last of all would be the isles of Kyushu and Shikoku.

Central Japanese warlords were under the overlordships of his own clan, Tokugawa, Imagawa, Saito, Asakura, Asai, and Takeda. Tokugawa of course was his own ally. Imagawa (click here for biography and pictures), he had beaten the clan up for good and the rest was finished by Ieyasu (click here). Saito was his own father in-law, and the provinces belonging to the clan was added to Oda's quite easily through thru bloody wars (click here). Asakura and Asai were harder to subdue (click here for biography and picture), but he managed to do that by 1573 (click here). Warrior-monks (click here) were already exterminated from around Kyoto in 1571. Only Takeda was big enough to thwart Oda's dream. But this was solved by Fate: Takeda Shingen was shot by a Tokugawa sniper, and died in 1573; his son Takeda Katsuyori was no match to Oda (click here).

Eastern Japan was under the rule of independent warlords such as Date and Nanbu clans, while the rest were mostly tributaries of Uesugi clan. Date and Nanbu had already been tributary warlords to Oda since 1576. Oda faced Uesugi Kenshin's forces only once, in 1577, but was not even a war, though some people insist that Oda was beaten there (click here). Uesugi, too, was not an obstacle to Oda Nobunaga's dream -- he died in 1578 because of cancer (click here for Uesugi's biography and pictures). The Uesugi clan splitted up and fell to pieces in the same day that Uesugi died, so Shibata Katsuie easily took over the Uesugi domain for Oda.

Western Japan, on the contrary, was tough. The overlord of all Western Japan provinces, Mori, was better than Oda in war equipments; in fact Nobunaga's overhaul of his Army and Navy was done in response to Mori's latest update of cannons and warships. Mori also was excellent in emotional ties they had with their vassals -- just one glance at history is sufficient to show you that Mori's vassals were really loyal to the clan (click here for famous examples).

This was even tougher because Oda Nobunaga didn't lead his own Army as usual in the campaign in Mori's territory. Oda was busy building his Azuchi castle, and, after that, he wanted some time off to spend in Kyoto. And the Chief of Staff, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, was troubled by an internal problem: Oda's Generals sent as his backup never dared to protest against it to Oda, but they leashed their grudge directly to Toyotomi whom they thought unfit to be their temporary 'boss'.

Toyotomi, finding that Oda Nobunaga's eldest son, the 23 year-old General Oda Nobutada, was the only one who accepted his leadership (Nobutada's reason was simple: "My father knows Hideyoshi much better than I do. I know my father better than I know Hideyoshi. So I won't challenge his decision."), finally filed a complaint about the constant insubordination he suffered from other Generals, especially Akechi Mitsuhide, but Oda said, "What do you want me to do? It's your job to enlighten them. What are my so-called Generals for, if I still have to talk to them and ride in front of them all the way to battlefields like I used to do when there were so few of them?"

Toyotomi couldn't do anything about it except to alienate the supposed 'backups' sent by Oda to his camp, consisting of Generals and Captains who weren't cooperative. As a result, the Oda clan's winnings in Western Japan were actually Toyotomi's own achievements, gotten via his own resources, because Oda Nobunaga, when he got the zillionth letter from Toyotomi asking for his presence there in front of the enemy, to which he agreed to come, didn't have the chance. He died when about to join Toyotomi there (click here).

Anyway, Oda's victories were ensured by his own personal leadership -- he was the only one among the so-called 'three unifiers of Japan' (the other two are his General Toyotomi Hideyoshi and his ally Tokugawa Ieyasu) whose principles in the army was sort of lax. Everybody knew Oda never cared about pedigree and never judged anyone except by their own selves. This helped fostering peaceful competitions among the soldiers to catch his attention the right way; via doing their jobs as best as they could.

Oda treated his vassals almost like they were allies, while Toyotomi (in later years when he was the ruler of Japan) discarded his previous Oda-like style and assumed a rigid chain of command, and Tokugawa Ieyasu had always been a super-square boss from the beginning.

Among Oda's inimitable talents was that he could instinctively spot people's finest traits and used them effectively. So he got the best of the best warriors available in the country (click here to see Oda's men and his managerial style within the clan).

Click here for details of how come Oda Nobunaga won most of his wars.


Oda artillery Toyotomi artillery

Oda Nobunaga's artillery (left) & Toyotomi Hideyoshi's (right) in 1570's. Tom Cruise has shown you a crowd of Meiji soldiers incapable of firing anything, and a clot of samurais who fought guns with swords in his movie The Last Samurai.

That might have misled zillions of moviegoers worldwide.

Cruise's set is late 19th-century. Japanese warlords have used guns and cannons since 16th-century.

The tragic array of the absolutely clueless Private Japanese & Co. that Captain Algren of the U.S. Army got to drill from nought (I'm still talking about the movie here) consists of ex-peasants and urban poor; none of them was from a samurai family.

The real-life last samurais fought the way Cruise's Matsumoto clan do because they, as rebels in remote spots far from traders of armaments, couldn't get any more ammo.

Besides, a great chunk of the Anti-Restoration men used non-firearm stuff to clash against the Imperial Army as a statement of faith (or to get impractically poetic, depends on who's talking about it).

And have you ever heard that Oda Nobunaga is the inventor of nonstop cyclical firing? He had applied this technique in the much-cited battle of Nagashino (against the Takeda clan of Kai) -- that was 30 years before any European even started to try it at war. Click here if you have no idea what I'm talking about.

CLICKABLES | What Restoration am I talking about? | Tom Cruise's last samurai | Story of Toyotomi


click here


click here




Besides conquered realms and defeated warlords, the Oda clan in Nobunaga's hands got the best ally anyone could ever dream of: the lord of Mikawa, Tokugawa Ieyasu (click here for the story of how the alliance came into being in 1561). By extension, the Oda clan got the service of Tokugawa's best Generals, such as the legendarily incorruptible and invincible Honda Heihachi (click here for story and pictures) and the daredevil Captain Sakai Tadatsugu (click here for story and pictures).

Mikawa, Tokugawa's province, used to fight against Owari when Oda's and Tokugawa's dads were still around. Both were rather impoverished provinces with little to boast of and few to make a list of wartime resources with. But Oda had the greatest dream of all, to put Japan under one political and military sky. He, Toyotomi, and Tokugawa shared the same worldview, or in other words all three wanted to be on top of the oneness of Japan that they envisioned. So actually they were rivals -- or to be precise Oda and Tokugawa were, since Toyotomi kept his ambition checked all the way when he was Oda's General. Tokugawa read the tides and concluded that this was Oda's time anyhow, so he, too, never brought his own ambition up as long as Oda was alive and kicking (and he kicked a lot).

With this in mind, Tokugawa shared Oda's victories while quietly amassing the clan's own winnings. As allies, the two clans were kind of equal in status, so at war their chiefs rode side by side and took no orders from each other, while all war plans were mutually discussed in meetings between Generals of the two clans. If one of them was attacked by an enemy clan while the other couldn't help for some reasons, the latter gave some compensation. In territorial wars like those of this era, both clans' distinguished warriors got equal share of the spoils based on merit. If Ieyasu wasn't present, then the Tokugawa men, if it is an Oda war (for instance, some villages in Owari were burnt by an enemy, or one of his castles was attacked), got to look to Oda or his Generals as the highest of the chain of command. The same applied to Oda's warriors when they fought in a Tokugawan war without Nobunaga around.




Oda and Tokugawa never had any quarrel when it comes to the alliance, its rules and all. This is no small feat because their alliance lasted for 21 years.

No matter how interpersonally insufferable Oda Nobunaga was, Tokugawa Ieyasu was used to occupy 'seat number two' because of his one-decade-long confinement as a hostage to the Imagawa clan of Suruga -- he was held virtually a prisoner there since age 5 to late teens (click here for story and pictures). Their personalities were so different in the sense that Tokugawa's filled up what Oda was devoid of, and vice versa. So a clash between them was simply impossible.

Tokugawa, 8 years younger than Oda, was mature beyond his years, had no objections to delays, very slow in arriving at decisions, and preferred unshining fully-planned actions than brilliant dashes of sudden inspirations.

Oda Nobunaga, as everybody knows until today, was not a different man at 30 from what he had been at 15. He would blast if there was a nanosecond of delay whenever he wanted something done. His decisions came in lightning speed anytime at all, followed instantly to manifestation.

He appeared whimsical all the time, too -- although most of what were dubbed Oda Nobunaga's 'moods' were nothing but ripe climaxes of what he had been thinking and feeling about for long.

Tokugawa trusted nothing but what he called 'well-contemplated logical plans', while Oda completely trusted his instincts.

You can imagine what resulted when the two were combined in 1561. If Oda-Tokugawa alliance were a man, he would have been perfect.

Some historians insist, even now, that Tokugawa Ieyasu was Oda Nobunaga's vassal (a.k.a retainer, a.k.a underling).

That's a very funny notion.

Tokugawa would have been one, under Toyotomi Hideyoshi's rule since 1584, because Toyotomi did treat him and his clan like a vassal. Toyotomi wondered why Oda Nobunaga didn't do the same, in fact.

But Oda Nobunaga's way to treat all people was essentially the same; his temperament made everyone seemed like (to a third party) and felt like a subordinate whenever facing him.

But differ an inborn characteristic from a deliberately carved trait. Oda Nobunaga couldn't help having his short temper and all; it would be the same as your wish to have been born as Ben Affleck. Even when Oda felt good and intended to be good, he was still scary. He couldn't have helped that.

Meanwhile, although Tokugawa was born a warlord, he was put into the position of an underling in the formative years of his life, having to have to bow constantly to another clan, withhold his true thoughts and feelings, hide his real intentions, maintain the appearance of total meekness.

As a contrast, Oda Nobunaga was accustomed to be the one who had the last word on everything -- he was the head of the house since 7 years old, remember -- accustomed to have people waiting on him, accustomed to make final decisions for himself and his family -- including decisions that changed the history of both.

So, Tokugawa did behave as if he was of a lesser rank, yet that was just because of his habitual trait (the Imagawan-hostage years had, just in case you haven't noticed, even put Tokugawa Ieyasu upon exercising a permanent body language: he always tended to stoop); but Oda never thought of him as such, because he (just instinctively) knew the Tokugawa clan was the only one he shouldn't fight against -- and this was not only because of the slowly-emerging Tokugawa army whose characteristics resemble much of the Japanese Imperial Navy of World War II -- and therefore, though smaller in number, was better in quality than Oda Nobunaga's own army. What Oda correctly sensed was, as he told Toyotomi Hideyoshi, "The Tokugawas are proud and reliable as allies or enemies alike."

Oda Nobunaga could make anyone tremble when talking to him, yet he even took care not to offend or scare Tokugawa's men.

Once, in a meeting during the 1571-1575 war against the Takeda clan of Kai (click here to see movie scenes), a Captain of the Tokugawa army, Sakai Tadatsugu (click here for story and pictures of him), proposed a certain tactic that Oda's men didn't find feasible. Oda Nobunaga frowned at Tadatsugu and blew his trade-mark 'dragon's breath' toward the Captain, saying that such a foolish plan would never ever work.

When the meeting was over, Oda said to Tokugawa, "Tell Tadatsugu I'm sorry. He is free to go on with the movement he suggested earlier, if he wishes so and if you agree with me that it is a good plan. I'll send 500 of my gunners to go with him in this mission." Tokugawa relayed the message to the crestfallen Captain, and told him that Oda appeared to get mad at him at the meeting because such a plan wasn't supposed to be discussed openly lest it would leak (who knew, probably the Takeda ninjas were all over the place), while its success depended entirely on the element of surprise.

By the way Sakai did it successfully and when he returned to the camp there was a smiling Oda congratulating him.



Oda's banner in battle

The pic above is Oda Nobunaga's favorite image that he put on his banners in battle. Yes, it is a coin, plain and simple.
Click here for what this coin means to Oda Nobunaga, and how come it put him into Zen Buddhism.


Takeda Shingen   Uesugi Kenshin   Asai Nagamasa   Imagawa Yoshimoto   Warrior-Monks


Oda Nobunaga

Lord Oda Nobunaga
of Owari


Shogun Ashikaga Yoshiaki

Shogun Ashikaga Yoshiaki
was hitherto nomadic


Hosokawa Fujitaka

Lord Hosokawa Fujitaka
advisor of the Shogun


Lord Imagawa Yoshimoto
of Suruga


Asakura Yoshikage Yoshiaki

Lord Asakura Yoshikage
of Echizen


Takeda Shingen

Lord Takeda Shingen
of Kai


Asai Nagamasa

Lord Asai Nagamasa
of Omi


Ukita Naoie

Lord Ukita Naoie
of Takayama


Mori Motonari

Lord Mori Terumoto
of Western Provinces


Saito Yoshitatsu

Lord Saito Yoshitatsu
of Mino


Click here for Oda Nobunaga's 'Teacup Diplomacy' -- he invented and pioneered it,
then Toyotomi & Tokugawa imitated and continued it during their reigns.



About those he had beaten up, Oda Nobunaga's policy was, he took no chances at all.

Future vengeance of the beloved of the slain was sickening to him; his basic principle in warfare was "take no prisoner" in the most literal sense. Making use of former enemies, too, was always something distrustable to him, and as far as he could, he avoided it.

In this, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu differed from him; that's why Oda was seen as 'the cruelest warlord' ever, via his invariable after-battle executions. Every warlord did it, but, because Oda Nobunaga conquered so much, his after-battle gory scenes were of course much more often to happen than anybody else's.

He didn't like a siege either (the most notably events was the siege of the warrior-monks' Mt. Hiei, and the siege of his turncoating brother in-law's Odani castle), since it was incompatible with his temperament; yet warfare in 16th century Japan -- which was infested so wholly by forts and castles -- necessitated such a thing.

Thank gods there were Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Shibata Katsuie and so forth, who didn't mind surrounding an enemy fort and waiting for it to relent.


So, what was Oda Nobunaga's official title? In what capacity did he rule Japan? Click here for history and pictures of Japanese social classes in Oda Nobunaga's times


As was the custom of the era, 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, after every territorial conquest. Often he just said to a General, "I'm giving you X county," while the said county was somebody else's domain. This meant he was sending the General to capture it from the present lord, and afterwards he could occupy it, tax it, and had to defend it from future threats.

Sometimes an unusual incident happened in this primitive war-spoil matter.Toyotomi Hideyoshi made a great mistake 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.


CLICK Click here for story & pictures of the bloodlusty warrior-monks, who were Oda Nobunaga's diehardest enemies.


Nagashino snipers Nagashino tactic

A 1980's history book's portrayal of Oda snipers during the most famous battle of Nagashino (left).
The best of Oda's sharpshooters were General Takigawa Kazumasu's.
In Kurosawa Akira's movie Kagemusha, the Oda lancers that come out after every shot,
like shown in this ancient painting (right), are not presented.



Kato Kiyomasa Konishi

Oda Nobunaga's manpower consisted of people such as Toyotomi Hideyoshi's Captains
Kato Kiyomasa (left, on horseback) and Konishi Yukinaga (right, also mounted).
They would be Generals when Toyotomi became the ruler of Japan after Oda's death.




Oda scout
Oda scout preparing the war
against Takeda clan of Kai.
Click the pic for movie scenes.
Oda ninja
Oda ninja in the midst of battle
against Asai clan of Omi.
Click the pic for why.



Just in case you are a student or something, and were actually looking for a complete profile of the Oda clan -- year by year, person by person, death by death, from one battle to another, and so on -- and then you misclicked and got stranded here instead of the Library of Congress, click the button at your right for the Oda clan's 4 generations of exploits -- from Oda Nobunaga's rather clueless daddy to Oda Nobunaga's underachieving grandsons.

click here


NEXT: Oda Nobunaga's Encore












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