Saturday, 1 August 2015

Narrow Road To The Deep North 22

Oda Nobunaga was the primus inter pares of the greatest samurai in Japanese history. He changed the way war was fought, through innovations in battlefield strategy, technical dominance, and organizational brilliance. He developed, implemented, and expanded the use of long pikes, firearms and castle fortifications, in adaptation to the expanded mass battles of the period. His ingenious creation of the rotating volley tactic ensured his firearm brigades could unleash a never-ending barrage of gunfire as one troop of gunmen always stood in reserve ready to attack and unleash hell when the first troop was forced to reload. He conquered the two important musket factories in Sakai City and Omi province assuring him superior firepower over his enemies.
Nobunaga brought to life a specialized warrior class system based on merit and ability and skill, rather than heritage. Retainers were given land on the basis of rice output, not land size. Unafraid to delegate, yet not a particularly trustworthy leader, few samurai entered his inner circle, and even his top men were treated with aloofness, and moved from place to place. 
For all his military magnificence as a Sengoku Daimyô on the grandest scale, Nobunaga also worked tirelessly to create an economic superstate within the expanding borders of his realm. He had entered a Kyoto still in disrepair from the dark days of the Ônin War, its hills infested with bandits, and the use of its roadways subjected to extortionate levies. One of his first acts was to abolish the tollbooths, and commission a series of cadastral surveys in the surrounding prefectures. 
Nobunaga was a keen businessman, and understood the principles of microeconomics and macroeconomics. He reconstructed an economy based exclusively on agriculture to a free market, focused on the manufacturing of goods and services. Castle towns were developed as the center and basis of local economies. He commissioned the construction of roads between them, not only to facilitate trade but also to be able to rapidly move his massive armies great distances in short timeframes. 
His rakuichi rakuza policies abolished monopolies, opened previously closed privileged unions, and stimulated business. He introduced tax exemptions and established laws to regulate and ease the borrowing of debt. Nobunaga assumed control over the minting and exchange of coins, and brought the merchant city of Sakai under his influence, which proved valuable beyond anything anyone predicted. And he expanded international commerce beyond China and the Korean peninsula, to the Philippines, Siam and Indonesia, and nanban ‘Southern Barbarian’ trade with Europe.

Friday, 31 July 2015

Narrow Road To The Deep North 21

Toyotomi Hideyoshi, having learned of the assassination of his lord, quickly signed a peace treaty with the Mōri and, alongside Tokugawa Ieyasu, rushed to be the first to avenge Nobunaga and take his place. He force-marched his army to Settsu in four days, catching Mitsuhide off guard, with a strength of 20,000 men. The two forces met at the Battle of Yamazaki, and Hideyoshi immediately seized the advantage by securing the 900 foot heights of Tennozan; his vanguard maneuvered against the Akechi forces along the Emmoyji river, starting a rout lasting only two hours after the battle had begun, and enacting revenge for his master’s death. Upon fleeing Yamazaki, Mitsuhide died en route to Sakamoto, killed by a peasant warrior, Nakamura, with a bamboo spear. 

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Narrow Road To The Deep North 20

Nobunaga returned from his conquest of the Takeda clan in time for news of another Mōri crisis in the west. Hideyoshi had laid siege to Takamatsu castle, but was faced with the arrival of Terumoto’s main army. Nobunaga responded by speeding a large contingent of his personal troops westward. Hideyoshi had no need for reinforcements but, envied and hated by fellow generals for his swift rise from a lowly sandal bearer to a top general, asked Nobunaga anyway, wanting to give him credit for taking Takamatsu, to humble himself in front of other Oda vassals. Nobunaga stayed at Honnōji temple in Kyoto on June 20th, entertaining court nobles. Nobunaga would never have expected an attack in the middle of his firmly controlled territories, and was guarded by only a few dozen personal servants and bodyguards. His son Nobutada stayed nearby at Myōkakuji, a temple on the grounds of Nijō Palace. Mitsuhide was ordered to march west and assist Hideyoshi.
Instead, Akechi assembled 13,000 soldiers, detoured into Kyôto, and surrounded Nobunaga's position at Honnō-ji, sending another unit of troops to assault Myōkakuji, in the initiation of a full coup d'état. 
“The enemy is at Honnō-ji!” Mitsuhide said, and called for Nobunaga's head. 
Nobunaga awoke the following to find the temple surrounded, and on fire. Trapped within his own shrine set aflame, he retreated from the fighting of his small entourage, soon overwhelmed and slaughtered. The outcome was a forgone conclusion, and he died, either in the blaze, or by committing seppuku, in one of the inner rooms. Only his teenage page, Mori Ranmaru, remained at his side, in ritualized shudō homosexual patronage. He attended to Nobunaga as he sought a moment of peace to carry out his last act, and then killed himself in the same way. Nobunaga's son, Oda Hidetada, fled the scene soon afterwards, but was surrounded at Nijo and executed. 
Yasuke was also there. Immediately after Nobunaga's death, Yasuke went to Nijō Castle. When attacked by Akechi, Yasuke fought for a long time. Finally he surrendered his sword to Mitsuhide's men. Asked what to do with him, Akechi said that the black man was a beast and did not know anything, and furthermore, he was not Japanese, so they should not kill him but take him to the church of the visitor from India, so they did, much to the relief of the Jesuits, who had worried about him.
If Mitsuhide thought that the demons he had unleashed were controllable, he was dead wrong. About thirteen days worth dead wrong. He claimed lineage from the Minamoto clan, declared himself Shogun, looted Azuchi castle to reward his men in an effort to maintain their loyalty, made gestures of friendship to a panicked Imperial Court, as well as many attempts to win over other clans. The ground came out from under his feet.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Coming soon. Be there.

Narrow Road To The Deep North 19

In 1582, Nobunaga was in a position to finish off the Takeda clan, once and for all. Massing all of his 100,000 men, he rode easily into Katsuyori's still considerable territories, whose inhabitants had lost all confidence in their daimyô. Katsuyori, was abandoned by his men, and committed suicide in the shadow of Temmoku Mountain. Of all the Oda's samurai enemies, Nobunaga despised the Takeda most of all, and gloated shamelessly over Katsuyori's head. On May 21 Nobunaga returned to Azuchi Castle, greeted by an imperial court that promised him new titles including, if he wanted it, that of shôgun. He gave no answer, nor would he ever.
Already, one of Nobunaga’s closest and most capable generals, was plotting against him. For thirteen years, Akechi Mitsuhide had served Nobunaga, defending Shogun Yoshiaki, defeating the Ikkō-ikki at Enryakuji Temple, and pacifying the clans of the Tamba region. Although Nobunaga rarely trusted his retainers completely, his particular confidence in Mitsuhide rewarded him with the gift of Sakamoto, the first castle bestowed on a subordinate.
But there was another side to Nobunaga’s relationships with his retainers. He treated them haughtily, and. nowhere more the case than with Akechi Mitsuhide. A relatively late addition to Nobunaga's inner circle, Akechi was a talented poet, provoking his lord's jealousy. Several public insults Nobunaga had directed at Mitsuhide so fueled the situation that they had even drawn the attention of some Western observers. While staying at Azuchi Castle, Ieyasu Tokugawa complained about the food he was served, and Nobunaga responded by throwing Mitsuhide's priceless dinnerware into the garden pond. But the event that irreversibly deepened the rift between the two men had occurred in 1577. Akechi had besieged the castle of the Hatano clan, and succeeded in securing the bloodless surrender of the daimyô Hideharu and bringing him before Nobunaga, under promise of protection for their personal safety. To his shock, Nobunaga ordered Hideharu and his brother executed. The Hatano blamed Akechi for the betrayal and, in revenge, kidnapped and brutally murdered his mother. Not surprisingly, this did not sit well with Mitsuhide. Within two months Nobunaga would be dead.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Narrow Road To The Deep North 18

There were still three enemies close enough to frustrate his designs. The Ishiyama Honganji stronghold of Osaka were as formidable as before Nagashino, and drew support from the other two clans sympathetic to its cause. 
 A fearsome samurai warrior named Kenshin led the Uesugi clan. For a brief time, the ‘Dragon of Echigo’ had maintained a wary alliance with Nobunaga against the Takeda, but tensions rose after Nagashino, for two reasons. First, Nobunaga was expanding into Uesugi territory; second, ground was broken at Azuchi Castle in the spring of 1576, strategically sited to control Uesegi influence, and Nobunaga planned to make his new capital the grandest fortress ever built. This culminated in the Battle of Tedorigawa the following year. After Kenshin had lured Nobunaga into a nighttime frontal assault across the Tedori River, Kenshin opened the river’s floodgates. 
The Oda, pushed into the river, unable use their arquebus and cannons, and defeated, lost a thousand men in a forced retreat. Emboldened, Kenshin returned to Echigo to plan his march on Kyoto and the destruction of Nobunaga in the following spring. 
The third obstacle to Nobunaga’s total control of the country, was the one that ultimately undid him. The Môri of Western Honshu were impressive, both because large tracts of lands under their rule, and because of the founder, Mōri Motonari, The Lord of Koriyama, was one of the greatest warlords of the mid-16th Century, and the source of the apocryphal ‘Lesson of the Three Arrows.’ In this parable that is still taught to Japanese schoolchildren today, Motonari gives each of his three sons an arrow to break. He then gives them three arrows bundled, and points out that while one may be broken easily, not so three united as one. There is no ‘I’ in team. When Motonari was poisoned in 1571, his son, Terumoto, carried on his father’s budding opposition to Nobunaga. He recognized that the Ishiyama Honganji in Osaka, primary fortress of the Ikkō-ikki, was the ideal place to oppose him.
In June 1576, Nobunaga dispatched Harada Naomasa with an army to attack the Honganji mobs of warrior monks, priests, and farmers, an effort that ended in failure and the death of Harada. Nobunaga responded by personally leading a follow-up attack that took quite a few heads, but saw him wounded in the course of the fighting. Realizing the futility of a direct assault on the heavily defended fortress, Nobunaga changed tactics, reducing and crushing and weakening the Honganji's satellite monasteries, and diverting the naval forces of Kûki Yoshitaka to the waters off Settsu in a direct naval blockade against the fleets of the Ikkō-ikki's allies, who sought to supply the fortress and break the siege. Terumoto responded by mobilizing his first rate navy, commanded by the Murakami family, men who, like the Kûki, had cut their teeth in piracy. Sailing east, the Môri defeated Kûki Yoshitaka's ships in the First Battle of Kizugawaguchi, breaking the blockade and supplying the fortress.
But 1578 was a banner year for Nobunaga.  In February, the Imperial court appointed him Daijo daijin, or Grand Minister of State, the highest post that could be bestowed; but if the Emperor hoped that such an exalted title would subdue Nobunaga, he was wrong.
On 13 April, time deserted Kenshin, just as it had Shingen, at the height of his power and in the perfect position to thwart Nobunaga's ambitions. The cause of Kenshin's death was not completely clear. Perhaps he was assassinated by a ninja with a short spear, waiting in the cesspool beneath the camp latrine. Perhaps it was the consummation of a lifetime of heavy drinking in the form of stomach cancer or cerebral hemorrhage. The theories are not mutually exclusive. The assassin, if he existed, may have simply killed a dying man. Upon hearing of Kenshin's death, Nobunaga was said to have remarked, ‘Now the land is mine.’ Over the next four years his forces would pick away at the bones of the Uesugi, until they were at the borders of Echigo.
In August, Nobunaga reengaged the Ishiyama Honganji, in the Second Battle of Kizugawaguchi. He had tasked Kûki Yoshitaka with desiging and building naval vessels that could offset the Môri's numerical superiority of 600 ships. Against convention, Yoshitaka unveiled six massive, heavily armed and armour-plated ō-atakebune wooden floating fortresses, covered in gun and bow emplacements. These first ironclads formed the core of a fleet that sailed back into the Inland Sea. However, during the battle an interesting flaw was discovered in the ō-adakebune warship design. As Mōri samurai rushed to board the large ship, all the defending warriors ran to that side of the deck, to defend themselves, and the ship capsized as its center of gravity shifted. Despite this several Mōri vessels were burned and sunk, and Oda's fleet drove off the defenders, and was victorious. The supply lines were broken, and after an 11-year siege, the Honganji stronghold at Ishiyama came to terms, and threw open their gates. Surprisingly, all of the surviving defenders were spared.
Nobunaga finished his Azuchi Castle on the shores of Lake Biwa, the greatest ever built in the history of Japan, lavishly decorated and immensely expensive. It was covered with gold and statues on the outside, and Kanō Eitoku’s interior standing screens, sliding doors, walls, and ceiling images, painted in monumental taiga bold, rapid brushstrokes, with a foreground emphasis on large motifs.
In March of 1581, the Italian Jesuit Alessandro Valignano came to Kyoto, accompanied by a black African servant from Mozambique. Yasuke caused such a sensation in the capital that several people were crushed to death while clamoring to get a look at him. Nobunaga expressed a desire to see him and, suspecting his pigmentation to be paint, stripped him from the waist up and made him scrub his skin. 

   ‘On March 23, 1581, a kuro-bōzu black page came from the Christian 
    countries. He looked about 26 or 27 years old; his entire body was 
    black like that of an ox. The man was healthy and good-looking. 
    Moreover, his strength was greater than that of 10 men... His name 
    was Yasuke. His height was 6 ft. 2 in. He was black, and his skin 
    was like charcoal.’

Yasuke’s tall stature would have been very imposing to the Japanese and Nobunaga was impressed by his strength. Yasuke spoke some Japanese, so Nobunaga enjoyed talking with him. His nephew gave him money, and Nobunaga provided him with his own house and a short katana, assigned him the duty of Dōgumochi porter of his straight-headed yari spear, and a position as a shikan samurai. 

Monday, 27 July 2015

Narrow Road To The Deep North 17

With the Asai and Asakura gone, and the Takeda quiet for the moment, Nobunaga sought final vengeance on the Ikkō-ikki bitter enemies of Nagashima. In 1574, Nobunaga undertook another Siege of Nagashima, third time lucky. Blockaded and bombarded by a fleet of ships led by Kûki Yoshitaka, using cannon and flaming arrows against the Ikkō-ikki's wooden watchtowers, Nobunaga captured Nagashima’s outer forts of Nakae and Yanagashima in a three-pronged attack, imprisoning the defenders within the walls of their main fortified monasteries of Ganshōji and Nagashima. Over 20,000 men, women, and children were completely cut off from outside sources of food, water, and other supplies. In July and August, Nobunaga's men built a large wooden palisade from one temple to the other, and Nobunaga set it aflame. No one escaped or survived. Another Nobunaga bloodbath, this one had been, in many ways, the most shocking. 
The death of Shingen in 1573 had only slowed the Takeda war machine. The following year Katsuyori, Shingen's heir, pulled off a strategic coup with the capture of Taketenjin Castle in Totomi. While not the ruler his father had been, Katsuyori's bravery, combined with the skilled Takeda army and the late Shingen's experienced cadre of captains, made him a formidable foe. While in the longer term, his aggressive impetuousness, would be his undoing, Tokugawa Ieyasu, in the there and then of the new indomitable spirit’s blazing ascendency, had his hands full. Katsuyori had devised a plot to take Hamamatsu Castle, arranging for one of Ieyasu’s retainers to open the gates. He was halfway there, when he learned the planned betrayal had been discovered, and Ieyasu alerted.
As a consolation prize, Katsuyori turned his attentions to a direct attack Nagashino Castle. When this failed to reduce the garrison, he settled in for a siege and attempted to mine the walls. A brave defender, Torii Sune'emon, slipped through the Takeda lines and told Ieyasu of the castle's predicament. Ieyasu sent him back to let Nagashino know that he had no intention of abandoning them, but Torii was captured and crucified by the Takeda in his attempted return. Tokugawa, although determined to rescue Nagashino, lacked the manpower to do it alone. Nobunaga was again hesitant to help, reluctant to take so many of his men and leaders so far from Kyôto. In frustration, Ieyasu once again played the same trump card he had used when Katsuyori’s father had been a menace, threatening to join the Takeda and attack Oda. Nobunaga gave in and threw his full weight into the effort. Moving quickly, he added an army of some 30,000 men, commanded by some of his best commanders, to Tokugawa’s 8,000 soldiers. Most importantly, Nobunaga brought a contingent of 3,000 riflemen.
By the time the Oda and Tokugawa forces converged on Nagashino in late June of 1575, Katsuyori was already in a difficult spot. Nagashino Castle was holding firm, leaving the weary Takeda army outnumbered and without a base from which to conduct operations. Older and wiser Takeda retainers urged Katsuyori to either retreat or make one last push to take the castle, but he chose to do neither. Instead Katsuyori ordered an all-out attack on the Oda and Tokugawa army amassed on his western flank. It was the last mistake of an impetuous commander.
Even had Nobunaga left most of his guns at home the attack was bound to fail. The Takeda were tired from weeks in the field in poor weather, outnumbered almost three to one, and faced with attacking over ground broken by foliage, dips, and a stream. 
The night before the actual battle, a Nobunaga ally led a raid into the Takeda camp and killed one of Shingen's surviving brothers, Takeda Nobuzane. 
When day broke, Katsuyori’s gamble on rain was lost in the rays of a bright morning sun. Nonetheless, he gave the order to attack, sending 10,000 troops across the Shidarahara plain against 38,000 troops established on superior ground and entrenched with wooden palisades. It was a Gekokujō Gettysburg. Matchlock fire produced the first casualties. Nobunaga compensated for the arquebus’ slow reloading time by arranging the arquebusiers in three lines. After each line fired, it would duck and reload as the next line fired. The bullets pierced the Takeda cavalry armor. Some of the Takeda vanguard managed to reach enemy lines and even cut into their ranks, before being thrown back and killed by incoming fire from counterattacks led by fresh, eager troops.
With the Takeda wavering, Nobunaga ordered a general pile-on, sending his ashigaru pouring out from behind the palisades. The battle devolved into butchery, and Katsuyori added to the fiasco by sending in his reserves, which did little but add to the casualty list and encourage the Nagashino garrison to mount a sally. Finally, after hours of bitter struggle, Katsuyori retreated, leaving as many as 10,000 of his men dead on the battleground. 
Nagashino was Nobunaga's greatest achievement, a victory as tactically decisive as Okehazama, and ultimately of great strategic significance, as it secured his eastern flank. Katsuyori was beaten but not vanquished, and would continue to harass, but as a regional power the Takeda were broken.
This brought Nobunaga's dream of conquering Japan within grasp. In May of 1574, he resigned his titles, pleading unfinished work in the provinces, and campaigned to force Emperor Ogimachi into retirement. His lack of success demonstrated the remaining limit to his power, but he was, in every other way, shogun in the vast lands under his control. 

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Narrow Road To The Deep North 16

In the winter of 1572 Takeda Shingen, meanwhile, at the urging of Shogun Yoshiaki, decided to make a drive for the capital, starting with an invasion of Tokugawa's territory. Takeda led a large army down from Shinano into Totomi and threatened Ieyasu's headquarters at Hamamatsu castle. Ieyasu requested military assistance. Nobunaga hesitated, despite the aid he had himself gotten from Ieyasu in the past, because not only was he still technically allied to Shingen, he was also tied down on the Western front. Ieyasu responded that there was little that might stop the Tokugawa from joining the Takeda, a scenario that would put the Oda in a precarious position. Nobunaga agreed to help as much as his own situation allowed. He sent a few thousand men under three lackluster generals of mixed quality, not enough to stave off the defeat that followed, but enough to eliminate any pretext of civility that may have existed between him and Shingen. However, after his defeat at the Battle of Mikatagahara, Tokugawa's forces launched a night raid and convinced Takeda of an imminent counter-attack, saving the day with a bluff. Ieyasu was developing a pivotal and inevitably successful philosophy of strategic patience in his campaigns with Nobunaga. Takeda troops went on to capture the imposing Oda castle at Iwamura, an embarrassing event that made Nobunaga furious.
However, fortune would begin to smile on Nobunaga, in May of 1573. Takeda Shingen was dead, from either an old war wound or pneumonia. The timing could not have proved worse for Yoshiaki, who had fortified Nijo Castle and dispatched letters to Nobunaga's enemies, urging them onward. With all of the furious determination he would become famous for, Nobunaga turned on his remaining enemies. He surrounded Kyoto and caught Yoshiaki unprepared, forcing him to negotiate. An uneasy truce was arranged through the intercession of the Emperor, one that neither side expected to hold for long.
In July of the same year, Nobunaga returned to Nagashima with a sizable force containing a large number of arquebusiers. His commanders, Sakuma Nobumori and Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the sandal bearer that would become the heir to Nobunaga’s unification enterprise, led a diversionary attack from the west, while Nobunaga planned to charge forward behind his gunners. But the Second Siege of Nagashima would turn out to be one of his most famous failures, a near mirror reverse of his success in the Dengaku-hazama gorge a dozen years earlier. The rainstorm that hit him, just as he was about to open the battle, rendered 90% of his arquebuses useless, and left his men in a terrible defensive position. Ikkō-ikki troops, also known for their expertise with firearms, counterattacked immediately, with covered weapons. Nobunaga himself was almost killed in the retreat. 
The setback goaded Yoshiaki into open rebellion. The first week of August he barricaded himself in a fort on the Uji River, intending to hold off Nobunaga long enough for the Asai, Asakura, and Honganji to fall on the Oda from behind. Yoshiaki had miscalculated. Nobunaga acted swiftly. By August 18 had breached the stronghold's outer defenses. Yoshiaki pleaded for his life and was exiled, the last of the Ashikaga shoguns. From then until his death, Nobunaga would be the de facto Shôgun.
He turned his attention to the Asai and Asakura, once and forever. Marching north against the Asai castle at Odani, Nobunaga ambushed and defeated the Asakura army dispatched to relieve it. Leaving a force to maintain the siege until he could return, he chased the fleeing Asakura into Echizen, captured Ichijo-ga-tani, and presided over Yoshikage’s suicide in a temple on 16 September. Back at Odani, before his own seppuku, Nagamasa sent his wife, Nobunaga’s sister Oichi, and their three daughters back to live with Nobunaga, but hid his son, Nagamasa's male heir, Manpukumaru, in a far place known only to them. But Nobunaga convinced his sister to reveal the hiding place by pretending he only wanted to raise the boy as family. Hideyoshi executed Manpukumaru, and displayed the head on a stake. Nobunaga had the skulls of Nagamasa, his father, Hisamasa, and the Asakura leader lacquered, so that they could be used as cups. Kill it if it does not sing.