Saturday, 25 July 2015

Narrow Road To The Deep North 15

Nobunaga’s problems with armies of warrior Buddhist monks did not end at Enryakuji. The next three years would require as many sieges, to subdue the Ikkō-ikki’s fortresses and fortifications at Nagashima. The first siege, in mid-May of 1571, began as an attack across a shallow but broad river, from small wajū island communities protected from flooding by a complex series of dikes. The horses became stuck in the soft mud of the river bottom, and the samurai under fire that managed to drag themselves to shore on were further slowed by ropes stretched across stakes, which further tripped them up. Many samurai were drowned when the defenders opened a dike and flooded the area. His men set a few villages aflame as they withdrew but this first attempt was a definite failure for Nobunaga, a complete and costly fiasco.
It was about this time that he met a Portuguese Jesuit missionary, named Luís Fróis, who described him.

    ‘He would be about thirty-seven years old, a tall man, lean, scantly 
    bearded, with a clear voice, greatly addicted to military exercises,   
    hardy, disposed to temper justice with mercy, proud, a stickler for 
    honor, very secretive in his plans, most expert in the wiles of warfare, 
    little or nothing disposed to accept reproof or advice from his 
    subordinates, but greatly feared and respected by everyone... He is of 
    good understanding and clear judgment, despising both Shinto and 
    Buddhist deities and all other forms of idolatry and superstition. He is 
    a nominal adherent of the Hokke Lotus sect but he openly proclaims 
    that there are no such things as a Creator of the Universe nor 
    immortality of the soul, nor any life after death. Extremely refined and 
    clean in his dress and in the nobility of his actions.’  

Friday, 24 July 2015

Narrow Road To The Deep North 14

On 30 July 1570, Nobunaga moved on the Asai stronghold at Odani Castle with a sizable additional contingent of Tokugawa men, 28,000 soldiers in all. Asai Nagamasa and Asakura Kagetake marched out to meet them on the Anegawa River, with their combined force of 20,000 men army. The Asai and Asakura were tenacious opponents. Their army along the coast of Lake Biwa and defeated an Oda army near Otsu, killing one of Nobunaga's younger brothers, Nobuharu. Nobunaga’s 500 arquebusiers created chaos, and clouds of smoke and dust. In the confused mingled fighting the continuous decapitation of soldiers resulted in 3,170 heads collected by the Oda camp alone. The Battle of Anegawa was a victory for Nobunaga and Ieyasu, but by no means decisive.
Nobunaga's position was slowly becoming more difficult. Now actively arrayed against him were the Asai, Asakura, and Miyoshi clans, supported by Ikkō-ikki and warrior monks from the Honganji, Negoroji, Nagashima, and Enryakuji of Mt. Hiei.  The Honganji proved the most formidable and fanatical, destined to hold out for a decade. At the same time, Shogun Yoshiaki was busy conspiring against his former patron, sending out letters to the Môri of Western Japan, and to the Takeda, Uesugi, and Hôjô of Eastern Japan. Nobunaga’s greatest threat was the powerful Takeda Shingen of Kai, who was already pressing his ally, Tokugawa Ieyasu.
But the Battle of Anegawa had bought Nobunaga enough breathing room to avenge the death of another young brother. In 1569, Nobuoki, under attack by rioting Ise Ikkō-ikki, had been forced to commit seppuku, after climbing to the upper level keep of Ogie castle. Two years later, Nobunaga's troops surrounded Mt. Hiei and, working their way up the mountainside, killing any and all found in their path. By the next day, the once sprawling Enryakuji monastery, a significant centuries old cultural symbol, was reduced to ashes and all four thousand sōhei warrior Buddhist monks, women and children lay dead, in an act of brutality so unusual that even his own generals were shocked when they heard of the devastation. 
The rebuilt complex is still a notorious place. On April 4, 2006, Enryakuji performed a ceremony for a hundred high level Yamaguchi-gumi leaders, from the largest Yakuza organized crime syndicate in Japan, rejecting the request of the Shiga Prefectural Police not to. 

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Narrow Road To The Deep North 13

In 1567 Nobunaga captured and moved his capital to the Saitō clan Castle at Inabayama, renaming it and the surrounding town, Gifu, after the fortress from which Chou ruler Wu Wang set out in the 12th Century to unify China.  Everything about the move was auspicious, including his new alliances with Matsudaira Motoyasu and Takeda Shingen. Here, he revealed his ambition to conquer the whole of Japan, and adopted his new personal motto Tenka Fubu, ‘The nation under one sword.’ Nobunaga determined to exist in political limbo, expressing little interest in orthodox rank or titles, including that of shogun. But the fool of Owari, gradually and unambiguously, became the real ruler in Kyoto.
The how had arrived in Gifu with why, a year later, in the form of Yoshiaki, brother of the Ashikaga shogun Yoshiteru, murdered by the Miyoshi plotters who had just installed puppet ruler Yoshihide. Yoshiaki wanted revenge. Nobunaga agreed to help him, and began a campaign, through the Rokkaku clan in southern Ōmi, driving the Miyoshi out of Kyoto.
Yoshiaki became the 15th ruler of the Ashikaga shogunate, the ‘wandering shogun,’ and Nobunaga began to restrict his powers. The daimyô who lived outside Nobunaga's sphere of influence became quite agitated by the developments in Kyoto. Upheaval in the capital was nothing new- but Nobunaga was quite unlike any of the various powerful lords of the past. They had struggled for personal gain and prestige. Nobunaga aimed to rule all of Japan. By taking Kyoto, Nobunaga had positioned himself in the 'soft under-belly' center of the nation, in the right place at the right time with the right window. Location, location, location. The other great warlords of his day Môri Motonari, Takeda Shingen, Uesugi Kenshin, and Hôjô Ujiyasu, were all far removed from the capital, and in the case of the last three, unable to move due to the ambitions of their neighbors. 
Nobunaga’s power eminated from the point of his sword, and as it grew, his need for diplomacy diminished. He kept a tight rein on his retainers, was ruthless to his opponents, especially those who proved troublesome, and his campaigns would be long and hard-fought as his reputation for cruelty grew. Few of his enemies had any illusion about what surrender meant. In a wild land of 260 Warring State feudal samurai daimyô domains, Oda Nobunaga would make more than a few.
In early 1570, Yoshiaki, displeased with his lack of real power, secretly forged an anti-Nobunaga alliance with the Asakura clan, the Azai clan, and the Buddhist Ikkō-ikki rebels. Suspicious, Nobunaga pressed Yoshiaki to request all the local daimyô to come to Kyôto for a banquet. Asakura Yoshikage refused, an act Nobunaga declared disloyal to both the shogun and the emperor. With this pretext, Nobunaga raised an army and marched into his province of Echizen. By March, Nobunaga, supported by Tokugawa Ieyasu, had penetrated its southern approaches and was moving on Yoshikage's capital of Ichijo-no-tani. Just then, Oda received the startling news that his brother-in-law, Asai Nagamasa, had switched sides to help the Asakura.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Narrow Road To The Deep North 12

The next morning, while Marume and Washizu were going up in flames, Nobunaga led a handful of men out of his castle and headed in the direction of Imagawa's army. Along the way he collected enough ashigaru and samurai to make an attack still foolish. Despite the odds, the priests at the Atsuta Shrine that he stopped to pray at commented on how calm he appeared.
Nobunaga's scouts had reported that Yoshimoto was resting in the narrow gorge of Dengaku-hazama, celebrating his victories with sake, and viewing the heads taken at Marume and Washizu. It was an ideal place for a surprise attack.
Nobunaga moved up towards Yoshimoto's encampment, and set up a position some distance away. An array of sashimono battle flags were hoisted up from behind a hill, on dummy troops made of straw and spare helmets, to give the impression of a large host, while Nabunaga’s real army hurriedly marched around the Imagawa. 
Broiling heat gave way to a terrific summer thunderstorm. The torrential downpour forced the Imagawa samurai to take shelter, and enabled Nobunaga to quietly sneak up closer to Yoshitomo's position. When the rain stopped, he launched a swift attack, charging down the gorge, staggering the entire Imagawa army into a daze. 
So sudden and ferocious was the ambush that Yoshimoto initially assumed a brawl had broken out among his men. The correction came suddenly, with two of Nobunaga’s samurai. One aimed a spear, which Yoshimoto deflected with his sword, but the second swung his blade and took off the Imagawa's head. His army fled, utterly defeated. 
Nobunaga's inconceivably stunning victory at Dengaku-hazama changed the course of Japanese history. It brought him national fame as a strategist, and removed a wolf from his back door. A year later Nobunaga forged an alliance with Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu, and begin building a foundation that would lead to the unity of Japan.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Narrow Road To The Deep North 11

Taira no Atsumori was a 15 year-old samurai, famous for his early death in single combat at the Battle of Ichi-no-Tani, in 1184. Atsumori engaged Kumagai Naozane, a Minamoto ally, and was killed. Kumagai had a son the same age as Atsumori, and his great remorse, coupled with his consequent taking of priestly vows, caused this otherwise unremarkable event to become renowned for its tragedy. The legend of Atsumori's death was poignantly profiled in Tale of the Heike. The Taira had been scattered by Yoshitsune's attack from the Ichi-no-Tani cliff. Kumagai no Jirō Naozane, scanning the beach for fleeing soldiers, spotted the young Atsumori swimming toward the fleeing vessels. Kumagai taunted him with his fan.

“I see that you are a Commander-in-Chief. He said. “It is dishonorable to show your back to an enemy. Return!” 
The two grappled on the beach, but Kumagai was too powerful. He knocked off Atsumori's helmet to deliver the finishing blow, only to be struck by the beauty of the young noble. Atsumori was ‘sixteen or seventeen years old, with a lightly powdered face and blackened teeth- a boy just the age of Naozane's own son...’ Kumagai, wishing to spare him, asked for his name, but Atsumori refused, indicating that he was famous enough that Kumagai's superiors would recognize his head when it was time to assign rewards. At that moment, other Minamoto warriors arrived at the scene, and Kumagai knew that if he didn't kill Atsumori, they surely would. Kumagai reasoned that it was better if he killed Atsumori, because he could offer prayers on his behalf for the afterlife. Crying, Kumagai beheaded the boy. Searching the body for something to wrap the head in, he came across a bag containing a flute. He realized that Atsumori must have been one of the soldiers playing music before the battle and thought, ‘There are tens of thousands of riders in our eastern armies, but I am sure none of them has brought a flute to the battlefield. Those court nobles are refined men!’ The beheading of was what led Kumagai to become a Buddhist monk.
This was classical Japanese tragedy. Atsumori was a courtier and poet, and not prepared for battle. He carried a flute, evidence of his peaceful courtly nature, and his youth and naïveté. Kumagai, the older seasoned warrior, noted that none of his fellow Genji Minamoto warriors were cultivated to the point where they would ride into battle with a flute.

The Noh play by Zeami Motokiyo, came later with the ghost song that Nobanuga would adopt as his theme. Identified as his since 1549, it would summarize his life.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Narrow Road To The Deep North 10

Nobuhide died in 1556, spawning two events that would change the course of Japanese history. Nobunaga was a brash and rude young man, bizarre and disgracefully behaved, and known as Owari no Ōutsuke, ‘The Fool of Owari.’ During his father’s funeral Nobunaga acted outrageously, throwing ceremonial incense at the altar. This alienated many of Nobuhide's retainers to the point where they began to side with his more soft-spoken and well-mannered brother, Nobuyuki. One old samurai, Hirate Kiyohide, was so distraught, he wrote up a letter urging Nobunaga to mend his ways, and then slit his belly. His death had such a dramatic impact that Nobunaga completely changed his behaviour and, in time, built the Seisyu Temple to honor his loyalty. The second event was the loss of the young Ieyasu back to the Imagawa, in exchange for his brother, Nobuhiro, who had been taken hostage in the siege of Anjo Castle.
Later the same year, Nobunaga’s brother Nobuyuki betrayed him, but was pardoned after the intervention of their mother. When Nobuyuki’s plans for another rebellion in 1557 were uncovered, Nobunaga faked an illness in order to get close enough to assassinate him in Kiyosu Castle. By 1559, the 25 year-old samurai had eliminated all opposition within his clan and throughout Owari Province. Nobunaga had schooled himself in self-reliance, alertness, and adaptability, and he looked for these qualities in his men, prizing those who could act without orders and granting them the utmost freedom of action. The first reward for his doctrine was imminent.
In 1560, Yoshimoto Imagawa gathered an army of 25,000 men and, using the excuse of aiding the frail Ashikaga Shogunate, set out along the Tokaido coast to take the capital of Kyoto. All that stood in his path was Owari province, and the small time daimyô who ruled it. His army outnumbered Nobunaga’s forces eight to one, further disadvantaged by their divisive distribution, defending various forts at the border. Yoshimoto dispatched some of his allied samurai to reduce the fortress of Marume, and others to assail Washizu Castle. The besieged commanders managed to send off letters of warning to Nobunaga in Kiyosu, and his advisors were divided on what course of action to take. Given the obvious disparity in numbers, it seemed logical to adopt a defensive posture, or even to capitulate without fighting. Nobunaga was for a direct frontal attack. With all the brash and unpredictable élan he was to show throughout his career, he ordered a conch shell blown and the garrison made ready for battle.
Before riding off with only a few attendants to pray, Nobunaga performed his favorite spiritual ritual warrior hymn and masculine dance at Kiyosu Castle, using a fan, and accompanied only by a single small drum. Recited by Nobunaga before this Battle of Okehazuma, and on every subsequent auspicious occasion, Atsumori embodied the very essence of the Buddhism and Shinto, and the Way of the Samurai.

                            ‘Man's life is fifty years.
                             In the universe what is it but dream or illusion?
                             Is there any who is born and does not die?’
                                                                          Song of Atsumori

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Narrow Road To The Deep North 9

‘Work is something you make for yourself, not something you wait 
  for. It is the lowly foot soldier that does only assigned work.’
                                                                            Oda Nobunaga

      ‘There are so many corpses in Fuchu that there is no room for 
                                                                             Oda Nobunaga

But we move too fast. In a sojourn among samurai, in an era when all the great ones lived, it isn’t fair to jump straight to the top dog. Many hounds are the death of the hare. Nobunaga made it, Hideyoshi baked it, Tokugawa ate it. 
No samurai was stronger or more cunning than Oda Nobunaga, one of the greatest rulers in Japanese history, and one of the most brutal figures of the Sengoku. Kill it if it does not sing. 
There may have been serious imperfections in the man, but his story is pure samurai. Nobunaga was born June 23, 1534, the second son of Oda Nobuhide, a skilled warrior and minor lord of Owari, who had spent much of his life fighting enemy samurai of the old and prestigious Imagawa clan, and the Matsudaira coming slowly under their influence. 
In 1548 Nobuhide launched an attack on Matsudaira Hirotada who called on Imagawa Yoshimoto for assistance. Yoshimoto agreed to help if Hirotada sent his young son as a hostage. Hirotada had little choice, and shipped off the 6-year old future Tokugawa Ieyasu westward. Enroute, however, the boy was captured by Nobuhide, who did him no harm.
The young Nobunaga, meanwhile, had developed a fondness for the Portuguese-copied Tanegashima snap matchlock and in 1549, at the age of 15, ordered 500 guns to be made for the Oda armies. Firearms were still primitive and cumbersome, their advantages questionable.  In 16th century Japan, an archer could fire 15 arrows in the time a gunner would take to load, charge, and shoot. Effective range was only 100 meters and, at that distance, a bullet would easily bounce off armor. Matchlocks were vulnerable to rain and humidity as the powder became damp. But firearms could be used successfully by farmers or non-samurai low-ranking soldiers with little training, and the Japanese worked quickly to improve their effectiveness. They developed bigger calibers to increase lethal power, protective lacquerware boxes to fit over the firing mechanism for fighting in the rain, measured fixed angle string systems to allow accurate night firing and, a particular innovation of Nobunaga, a serial firing technique to create a continuous rain of bullets on the enemy. Japan became so enthusiastic about the new weapons that it overtook every European country in absolute numbers produced, 300,000 within ten years of introduction.