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Hiei map

Click here for a detailed and complete map.
Click here for big photographs of the actual location of Mount Hiei battle.
Click here for big pictures of the warrior-monks.


"There are three things that I have absolutely no power upon," Emperor Go-Shirakawa said in 1170's; "1. dice, 2. the flow of the river Gamo, 3. warrior-monks of Mount Hiei."

For hundreds of years all Emperors got wary in total silence when it came to the issue of warrior-monks. Always a menace to them, and thus must be pacified by butt-licking, so to speak, like bribing them not to rebel or attack the capital city.

Kyoto is one of the finest capital cities in the world, yet its very source of natural beauty was also at once its core of woes, militarily-speaking: located on some low plains, surrounded by mountains, everyone in there felt like inside a fragile menagerie while the warrior-monks looked down from every cliff above.

The warrior-monks made it their habit to get involved in halting Imperial successions and doing attempts at coup d'etat; and the opposite of those. Because they apparently never hesitated to kill people for every kind of issue, today they might be on the Emperor's (or Shogun's, or Regent's, or Chief Minister's) side and tomorrow they still be there but with intention to whack him, then they had been every ruler's headache since at least the year 749.

All great clans in history -- Fujiwara, Taira, Minamoto, Ashikaga, Takeda, Mori, even the most Buddhist of all warlords, Uesugi, had fought against the warrior-monks. Time and time again the temples and monasteries were burned to the ground. But, since Buddhism was practically the national belief, those were built again every time, free from taxes as before, and the minute the construxion work was finished the monks re-appeared, armed to the teeth, harassing their next target.

Emperors, Chief Ministers, Regents and Shoguns had been thinking up all tricks to stop the growth of temples; there was even an official decree limiting the number of temples erected on Mount Hiei, released in 1171. But the monks ignored it -- and nobody dared to punish them for it.

In 1571, the number of temples and monasteries on this one single mountain alone had reached a totally scary number: more than 3,000, and all were fully inhabited.

It might seem severely fantastic to you, stories of monks and killing devices, and monks and concubines and procreating processes, and monks and booze, and monks and barbeque parties -- even more so because Buddhism is sort of too philosophical to get itself mummified into something distinguishably dead system of belief. But it did happen anyhow. Monasteries and temples had already been lairs of lazy bums and village bullies even before they got routine escapists from this dirty but at least not so hypocritical world. Buddhist monasteries in Japan started to get new members from the Imperial House and noblepersons' family trees in the end of the first thousand years after Jesus is said to have been born.

All war losers, chickenish Army deserters, incompetent post-power-syndromic ex-rulers, the slickest of all political criminals, aristocratic widows who poisoned their way to widowhood to begin with, etcetera, "shaved their heads and gazed toward Buddha", so said ancient historical tomes such as Tales of the Heike and the Kojiki and so on, as if it was an end of something rather than a start. In fiction, the hordes of lay-sinners-turn-monkish have even been larger. The following line is full of clickables: see Emperor Go-Shirakawa of 1000+ (the same Go-Shirakawa who confessed of being unable to control monks -- that's why he became one of them), Emperor Go-Daigo of 1300's, Lady Hojo Masako of 1200's, they are just a dash of samples of such cloistered unrepentant critters. In 16th century 'Warring States Period', where wars were daily occurence, whosoever lost the war but didn't have any guts to die, entered monasteries. These added to the already existing super-worldly sphere.

And here is Oda Nobunaga's true story concerning the same old warrior-monks.

Once upon a time, there was a Japanese spot called 'Ise'. The time is around 1550's, and the spot belonged to several independent clans that didn't really have anything to do with the turbulent universe of Central Japan, i.e. Oda Nobunaga's world. Not only Oda, but other warlords, too, craved this geographic dot on the medieval Japanese map, because Ise produced much of rice and rice was what everything else was measured by. And more than that, Ise was also the 'birthplace' of Japan according to Shintoism -- it was where the nation started to get ruled by descendants of the Goddess of the Sun, whose own descent was into Kyushu. (Click here for pictures of this 'birthplace of Japan').

In 1568, Oda Nobunaga found a peaceful way to step on this much-coveted land. He let his third son, Oda Nobutaka, to marry the daughter of Lord Kambei Tomomori. The Kambei clan happened to have no direct heir at the time, so Oda Nobutaka was at the same time adopted and became the next Lord Kambei waiting in line.


map of warrior-monks territory

Map of Oda Nobunaga's territory and warrior-monks' lairs in 1580. Awaji isle belonged to independent warlords, Awa was under the Ouchi clan's rule, Mikawa-Totomi-Suruga were Tokugawa Ieyasu's territories, the isle of Sado was still in the hands of the Uesugi clan even as Echigo, their main realm, had been within Oda Nobunaga's tributary vassaldom. The province of Harima was ruled by a Christian warlord, Kuroda Kanbei. The situation was really bleak since the most important spots in medieval Japan -- capital city Kyoto, the Osaka port, ancient capital Nara -- all were exactly the places where warrior-monks most glaringly infected.

Click here for a detailed and complete map of medieval Japanese samurai clans, all provinces of Japan between 1534 and 1600, and locations of Oda Nobunaga's battles against the warrior-monks.

Click here for complete maps of Oda Nobunaga's territory since he was just born until the death of his grandson.

Click here for story, maps and pictures of all of Oda Nobunaga's wars between 1560 and 1582.

Click here for complete maps of Tokugawa Ieyasu's final victory at the battle of Seki plains (Sekigahara).


In 1569, Oda Nobunaga decided to declare war against the Kitabatake clan of Settsu, still as a part of his overall (though, as always, rather whimsical) plan to get Ise. As a matter of course the weaker and shocked clan lost this war. The head of the clan surrendered, and as a show of good faith (if there can be any such a thing, when you are relegated to vassaldom, although Oda Nobunaga was very relaxed in such matters as ranks and the like) the Nagano clan adopted Oda Nobunaga's li'l brother, Oda Nobukane.

While Oda Nobunaga was busy warring in Settsu, he got a breaking news from his vassals in Kyoto: the Nichiren Buddhist leader, Priest Nichijo ('Nichijo-shonin' in Japanese), had just nearly succeeded in persuading Emperor Ogimachi to release a Christian Expulsion Decree, that would kick out every foreign missionaries and made the religion outlawed as far as the Japanese were concerned. (SEE NEXT PAGE for history and characteristics of the Nichiren sect).


Oda Nobunaga IN Shintoism   Oda Nobunaga IN Zen Buddhism


Jesuits in Azuchi
Oda Nobunaga receiving Jesuit guests at Nijo palace in Kyoto.
The Roman Catholic priest at the left is supposed to be Padre Valignano, and at the right Luis Frois.

Oda Nobunaga's way in dealing with Christianity, Catholic priests & foreigners
What did Italian priest Padre Gnecchi did for Oda Nobunaga in 1568


Oda Nobunaga was the friendliest of all de facto rulers of Japan when it comes to foreigners -- he enjoyed conversations with some Portuguese Roman Catholics, especially about geography, architecture, voyages, discoveries and of course warcraft. Several of Oda's own Generals and Captains were Catholics, too, for instance Lord Takayama Ukon (click here for profile & pictures).

So, although having no particular design to set himself against anyone in religious matters, Oda Nobunaga rode to Kyoto and cancelled the Decree right on time before it went public.

Priest Nichijo was furious, and Oda Nobunaga offered him a 'scientific' way out to vent his primal anger without involving average citizens: he invited the priest to come to Azuchi and hold a public debate against a Catholic preacher, Luis Frois (click here for story and pictures); and let the better win as far as arguments were the issue. This invite was accepted because it would have been embarrassing to decline a challenge.

This fully-documented debate (called 'The Azuchi Arguments' or 'Azuchi Ron' in Japanese) was held, and to the audience, including Oda himself, Priest Nichijo lost in the verbal duel.

The Roman Catholic diaries of this era said that Priest Nichijo nearly dragged the verbal and spiritual duel into the physical realm, if Oda didn't separate the two contestants by his own hands (Nichijo snatched Oda Nobunaga's favorite spear that happened to be put on the wall, and started to hit Frois with it).

The Nichiren sect considered this a shameful episode of their career, but the shame was not taken to be theirs truly -- it was all heaped up on Oda Nobunaga. Since then, they vowed to kill Oda Nobunaga, all his family and relatives, all his Generals and soldiers, even all people who got anything to do with the Oda clan.

That was at least their reason to get into assassination conspiracies and such, and hurried to any battlefield where anybody named Oda was fighting -- regardless of what it was about, nevermind who the enemy was, these monks fought other people's fights.


Hiei monk
An angry warrior-monk

Click here for history, pictures, profiles and map of Christian samurai, warlords and rebels of Japan in 16th-17th century, and how Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu differently dealt with them.


In 1570, when leading his army against the Asakura clan, Oda Nobunaga got a very unpleasant surprise: his own brother in-law, and in this case his favorite one, husband of his famous sister Lady Oda Oichi (click here for story and pictures), Lord Asai Nagamasa of Omi, cut the Oda army's retreat route and attacked them from behind (click here for pictures and story). Some Oda Captains were defeated with heavy loss because of the unexpected attack. Both the Asai and Asakura armies found another party ready to join the game at their side: the warrior-monks of Mt. Hiei, a 'sacred' mountain for Japanese Buddhists, HQ of the Tendai sect. For a while, the trio even killed too many Oda soldiers to count, until they got bored themselves.

After the initial shock was replaced by the usual trademark wrath, Oda Nobunaga slashed thru the Asai and Hiei lines (and Asakura's, too, for they were the real target), until they both retreated, and Nobunaga's eldest son Oda Nobutaka, plus his uncle Shibata Katsuie, the General Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and General Akechi Mitsuhide, conducted a uniform siege around Asai and Asakura castles.

But there was still another monstery shock for Oda Nobunaga.

He was still mad at the Asai clan's conduct, when fresh news came from Ise: the warrior-monks of Nagashima (they are usually mentioned by the name 'Ikki-Ikko') had taken up arms, and besieged the castle of Oda Nobunaga's younger brother Oda Nobuoki. Unable to hold on any longer, and his men were decimated so fast, Oda Nobuoki committed suicide.

Nobuoki's older brother couldn't even lend a dash of help because the news came too late and Oda's army was concentrated upon the Asai-Asakura domains, plus sections to fight away the annoying warrior-monks of Hiei who snatched every chance to kill an Oda soldier. Moreover, Tokugawa Ieyasu had asked for Oda's help to fight the mighty Takeda clan of Kai (click here for the real-life ultimate war against the Takeda clan, or here for movie scenes).

So, in 1571, Oda Nobunaga made the decision that would keep him in the collective memory of Japanese Buddhists of the right-wing forever.

"I can't take this," he said to Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Akechi Mitsuhide, after the siege of Mt. Hiei had been going on in vain for nearly a month. "The warrior-monks are taking shelter behind the privileges that their forefathers have earned, but which they never even care to substantiate. My enemy is not this mountain. It's not Buddhism, it's not Buddha. It is the privileges that these people are taking for granted, and the way they set themselves against me. If I don't do it, no one will ever do, and from one generation to another we'll still get killed by these monks. Get ready for a fire attack. Spare no one. And I mean no one. Hunt them all down and burn their lair. Then maybe the blaze will purify the religion anew."

Akechi Mitsuhide was, so tradition said, displaying every sign of getting almost fainted. Toyotomi remained impassive, but he, too, didn't really condone the plan of action -- all the other clans which fought against the warrior-monks usually only met them elsewhere, and spared temples from conflagration as far as they could.

Someone tried to raise a protest, risking to lose his head, saying that for a thousand years no one had dared to question, let alone challenge, the special rights of the Buddhist monks of Mt. Hiei. Not even Emperors. Reverence towards Buddhist monks of this place was the Japanese commonsense, he said.

This completely set Oda Nobunaga's anger at the highest level.

"What's the use of commonsense?!" he thundered over the camp. "You have been using commonsense for a thousand years and THIS is what it all amounts to: we have to fight unnecessary battles against these so-called Buddhist busybodies! Enough is enough!"

And nobody else resisted, not even Akechi Mitsuhide who, later, behaved as if he wasn't involved at all in what was to take place, and blamed it all on Oda alone.

That year, Mt. Hiei, all its temples, monasteries, and denizens -- including the monks' concubines and illegitimate kids -- were all put to the sword and the entire place was burned down to ashes.

In 1573, the warrior-monks of Nagashima attacked an Oda garrison and killed the officers stationed there. Another war against the monks broke. And this time the Oda clan lost.

A year later, 1574, these same warrior-monks captured and beheaded Oda Nobunaga's brother Oda Nobuhiro, their uncle Oda Nobutsugu, and their nephew Oda Hidenari.

Unsurprising if all that lit Oda Nobunaga's wrath anew. He mustered everything he got, and marched to Ise, then crushed the warrior-monks to dust (click here).


Battle at Mt. Hiei Battle at Mt. Hiei
Battle of Mt. Hiei in 1571. SEE NEXT PAGE for history and characteristics of this warrior-monks' sect.


Still at the same year, while Oda Nobunaga was busy, the warrior-monks in Echizen took the chance to raise an army and kill Governor Asakura Kageira simply because he was appointed by Oda Nobunaga.

A large part of the joint army of the Oda clan, under the command of General Shibata Katsuie, had to get sent there a.s.a.p to quench the rebelling monks. Shibata took a long time to subdue it, but in the end he did it and afterwards governed the province.

All through the next years, fightings against warrior-monks kept going on in a smaller scale, everywhere.

Then in 1576 the Honganji (Hongan temple) warrior-monks killed General Harada Naomasa, who was sent there to quell their rebellion.

This time the warrior-monks got sort of more self-confident, because they had succeeded in netting the support of other enemies of Oda, chiefly the Mori clan of Honshu (the 'Western Mori' to differentiate it from Mori Ranmaru's clan of Owari).

Slowly -- much too slow to Oda Nobunaga's liking -- via little battles -- the Hongan monks started to feel the pressure, since the Oda clan didn't care who aided them -- not even the Moris dared to get Oda Nobunaga into an open war anyway. Wanting to be a bit more lenient after the Hiei war, Oda Nobunaga sent his Generals to negotiate with these monks. But his offer of peace was flatly refused, and his messengers nearly couldn't get back from there.

In 1580, when the siege of the Oda clan upon Ishiyama -- the Hongan warrior-monks' HQ -- was still effective, suddenly the warrior-monks sent an envoy to talk of peace.

In an infamous incident, Oda Nobunaga ordered his attendant to cut the head of one of the monks that came to his camp.

Toyotomi asked why, since Oda himself wanted peace.

"If I didn't kill that man, they will never know I'm serious with our threat of making Ishiyama the second Hiei!" Oda replied.

And this was not so gruesome as it seemed in a 21st century eye -- only by such an act the warrior-monks (who, for their part, nearly did the same to Oda Generals who tried to talk of peace earlier) finally agreed to unconditionaly surrender. Oda Nobunaga asked the Imperial House itself to be the mediator.

Thus ended the Hongan episode of useless killings.

But even until the year of Oda Nobunaga's death the clan still had troubles because of attacks by the warrior-monks of Kaga. That, though, would be Toyotomi Hideyoshi's business as Oda's successor.

One thing was for sure: because Oda Nobunaga crushed the Buddhist warrior-monks, every ruler after him could check the formerly above-the-law men of religion -- since the monks kept arming themselves even after the Oda purgatory. They had a precedent to follow, and didn't have to get sick wrestling their own minds off the stale notions of sanctity of the monkish business.

Better still, the subduing of the warrior-monks meant revenue for the Imperial Treasury and the ruler of the time, because the economic reason the monks fought for was that every Buddhist temple and monastery and such, including the adjacent lands, were free from taxes; everything owned by the monks were immune from confiscation, everything they did was, in short, above this planet's reach. Imagine how much had been amassed in the span of time between the year 600 until 1571!

Those same warrior-monks were enjoying their luxurious chambers, with their women and male concubines, having their notorious drinking parties, when Emperors died of malnutrition and the Imperial Family couldn't afford funerals so that the corpses were let to wait for months until donation came from warlords (see History of Japan). Not a dime was given by the monks, who, when it was for their own interest, never hesitated to blackmail and threat people for donations to their temples.

The notion that the warrior-monks went to war because Oda Nobunaga, Devil Incarnated, was 'snatching the Buddhist land and robbing the temples' is really not funny. If it were not Oda but Queen Elizabeth, the monks would still have gone to war against her. Warring was their real job since Buddhism was imported by the Japanese in 6th century. They went to war because it was the way to get money and riches for free from whoever they defeated.

Another stupid thought is that the warrior-monks waged war against Oda Nobunaga 'to protect their faith against the encrouching Christianity'.

I quote the line as it is from one of the so-called 'samurai sites'.

This is even more clueless than anything.

There was no such a thing as the 'encrouching Christianity'. Christianity was never a danger to Japan because the Japanese state of mind finds it insensible. 99,99% of the so-called 'Christian converts' boasted of by the Jesuits were fake -- if only you know how they were 'converted', under gunpoint, you wouldn't so easily gulp the stunning numbers the Catholics displayed in Vatican.

But, while the religion itself wasn't dangerous, the European imperialism and European arsenal were. And these, alas, were parts of the so-called 'Christian missionary' in Japan since 1549 (see Christian Warlords pages) -- so, to simplify matters, caucasians were to get kicked out of the Japanese soil and their religion banned by Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu in 1637 (click here).

There can never be any justification for the warrior-monks to exist at all.

At least they could have paid taxes and not lived like Arabian kings of fairy tales when people died of famine and wars. The obvious hypocrisy is disgusting.

And if the warrior-monks were not subdued, there would have always been a great obstacle in the way of building a nation-state. Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and the entire Tokugawa shogunate thanked Oda Nobunaga for doing it; it made their monks-infested territories manageable.

And it was an everlastingly good thing. I can't imagine what would have happened if Emperor Meiji got to bargain with warrior-monks in 1868 when he was about to launch the Restoration.

Click on to the next page for history and differences among the 7 major Buddhist sects in Japan.



Prep for war of the warrior-monks of Nara

The most famous warrior-monk in the world is Musashi-bo Benkei, the paragon of heavenly loyalty, superhuman endurance, and infernal prowess in battles -- Minamoto Yoshitsune's follower (click here for story and pictures).

They both used to be what Japanese youth was to aspire to become -- until some 1990's homosexual artists started to pair them everywhere as icons of homoeroticism.


The Japanese warlords of 16th century had their own Buddhist advisors and confidantes, and these relatively non-combatant monks didn't just give them the routes to Nirvana, but also advice on how to get supreme in worldly matters such as wars and political powergames.

Lord Imagawa Yoshimoto of Suruga had the monk Sessai at his side; he shared the monk with Tokugawa Ieyasu at the latter's stay in Suruga as hostage.

Takeda Shingen of Kai had Kaisen.

The 'Western Mori' clan had Ekei. This monk would go to the war of Seki plains in 1600, against Tokugawa clan.

Akechi Mitsuhide had Ena.

Oda Nobunaga was the only warlord who never had advisors in any matter at all (click here for story and pictures).

Yet, one of Oda Nobunaga's own men was a Buddhist warrior-monk from Mt. Hiei. Click here for profile.











Takeda Shingen   Uesugi Kenshin   Asai Nagamasa   Imagawa Yoshimoto   Warrior-Monks






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