Battle of Tennōji


Oda Clan

Settsu Province

Hongan Temple

Date:  5/7 of Tenshō 4 (1576)

Location:  The environs of Tennōji in Settsu Province

Synopsis:  The Battle of Tennōji was one event in the Ishiyama War waged between Oda Nobunaga and the Ishiyama-Hongan Temple (with support from the Mōri and armed groups from Kii Province) from 1570 to 1580.  In this clash, despite being outnumbered approximately 5 to 1, Nobunaga decided to go on the offensive against the Hongan Temple forces.  Although senior commanders such as Ban Naomasa were killed in action, the Oda ultimately prevailed.

Lord:  Oda Nobunaga

Commanders:  Sakuma Nobumori, Matsunaga Hisahide, Hosokawa Fujitaka, Takigawa Kazumasu, Hachiya Yoritaka, Hashiba Hideyoshi, Niwa Nagahide, Inaba Yoshimichi, Ban Naomasa

Forces:  3,000

Losses:  Unknown but including Ban Naomasa

High Priest:  Kennyo 

Commanders:  Ishiyama-Hongan Temple, Saika Group, Suzuki Magoichi

Forces:  15,000

Losses:  2,700

The Battle of Tennōji occurred on 5/7 of Tenshō 4 (1576) as one of the clashes in the Ishiyama War.  The battle was waged between the Oda army under Oda Nobunaga and the Ikkō-ikki forces associated with the Ishiyama-Hongan Temple at Tennōji in Settsu Province.  It is also known as the Siege of Tennōji Fortress.  This conflict preceded by almost forty years an event involving Tokugawa Ieyasu and Toyotomi Hideyoshi known as the Battle of Tennōji-Okayama during the Siege of Ōsaka.


In the ninth month of 1570, Kennyo, the head priest of the Ishiyama-Hongan Temple, decided upon a showdown against Oda Nobunaga.  This ushered in the Ishiyama War.  The warrior monks of the Ishiyama-Hongan Temple and the Oda army engaged in repeated clashes. Following the death by illness of Kennyo’s older brother-in-law, Takeda Shingen, and the decimation of the allied forces of Azai Nagamasa and Asakura Yoshikage, along with the defeat of the Nagashima Ikkō-ikki, Kennyo faced a precarious situation.  In the second month of 1576, Mōri Terumoto responded to calls from Ashikaga Yoshiaki to join the campaign known as the Encirclement of Nobunaga and began to assist by supplying military provisions to the Hongan Temple.  An emboldened Kennyo proceeded to issue an order to mobilize followers in the Kinai and assembled a forces of 50,000 men.  As a result, the fighting that had at once subsided for various reasons flared again.

Course of events

Viewing the rebellion by the Hongan Temple with a heightened sense of urgency, Nobunaga deployed senior retainers including Sakuma Nobumori, Akechi Mitsuhide, Ban Naomasa, Hosokawa Fujitaka, Tsutsui Junkei, Nakagawa Kiyohide, Takayama Ukon, and Araki Murashige to Settsu.  A letter from Nobunaga addressed to Mitsuhide and Fujitaka at this time ordered them to cut-down the surrounding crops of the Hongan Temple, to remain vigilant, and to post a sign to inform men and women civilians they will be pardoned so should leave the castle.  This was completely different from the approach taken for the Nagashima Ikkō-ikki and the Echizen Ikkō-ikki.  However, he ordered the warrior monks engaged in the battle be killed.

On 4/14, in an effort to reinforce the encirclement of the Hongan Temple, Nobunaga had his retainers construct fortresses including three by Araki Murashige to the north in Noda across the sea from Amagasaki, two by Akechi Mitsuhide and Hosokawa Fujitaka to the southeast at Moriguchi and Morikawachi, and one by Ban Naomasa to the south at Tennōji.  Meanwhile, the Hongan Temple had fortresses in Rō-no-kishi and Kizu, securing the sea route to Nanba.  To sever this route, Nobunaga decided to attack the Kizu fortress and assigned Sakuma Nobuhide, the eldest son of Sakuma Nobumori, and Mitsuhide to the Tennōji Fortress.

Early in the morning on 5/3, the Oda army launched an attack in Kizu.  The battle formation included Miyoshi Yasunaga and the Negoro Group and the Izumi Group in the vanguard, and Ban Naomasa and the Yamato Group and the Yamashiro Group in the second line.  Approximately 10,000 Hongan Temple forces rushed out of Rō-no-kishi fortress and, while surrounding the Oda army, thousands more reigned arquebus fire on the Oda.  A powerful arquebus battalion from the Saika Group led by Suzuki Magoichi allied with them.  Naomasa’s forces fought against this attack for several hours, but, after being encircled by the enemy forces, Naomasa, along with family members Ban Yasuhiro and Ban Koshichirō, in addition to Minoura Buemon and Niwa Koshirō were killed in action.  Yasunaga fled and the army collapsed.  The Hongan Temple forces rode the momentum to surround and attack the Tennōji fortress.  Confronting dire circumstances, Mitsuhide and Nobuhide made a request for reinforcements to Nobunaga who was staying in Kyōto.

After hearing this news, Nobunaga issued mobilization orders to several provinces and, on 5/5, led 100 men to Wakae Castle in Kawachi.  On 5/6, Nobunaga waited for the arrival of more forces, but the orders had been issued without warning, so only a small number could assemble in time.  Meanwhile, the defenders at the Tennōji Fortress frequently reported that they could hold out for only three to five more days.  Nobunaga concluded it would be regrettable to lose honor by allowing allies nearby to be attacked and killed, so despite the small number of soldiers, he decided to launch an assault against the Hongan Temple forces.  On 5/7, led an army of only 3,000 men to attack as many as 15,000 enemy forces.

The  battle formation had three lines.  The vanguard was led by Sakuma Nobumori, Matsunaga Hisahide, Hosokawa Fujitaka, and members of the Wakae Group; the second line was led by Takigawa Kazumasu, Hachiya Yoritaka, Hashiba Hideyoshi, Niwa Nagahide, and Inaba Yoshimichi (Ittetsu); the third line was comprised of Nobunaga’s umamawari, or cavalry units, with Nobunaga himself mixed in with the foot soldiers in the vanguard division commanding the troops.  At this time, Nobunaga sought to delegate the vanguard division to Araki Murashige, but Murashige declined, saying that he would conduct defensive operations in the direction of Kizu.  Later, after Murashige betrayed Nobunaga, Nobunaga reminisced that it was good he did not assign the vanguard division to Murashige.  The Hongan Temple forces resisted with arquebus fire, but the Oda army charged ahead and thrashed the enemy while converging with the battalion defending the Tennōji Fortress.  On this occasion, Nobunaga incurred a light wound in the leg from arquebus fire.

Despite the converging forces, the warriors of the Hongan Temple did not retreat, and adjusted their battle formations.  Nobunaga then decided to mount another attack.  Chief retainers cautioned Nobunaga against the plan because the Oda forces were outnumbered, but Nobunaga asserted the having the enemy forces close at hand was a blessing from heaven.  Nobunaga reorganized the formations into two lines and burst forward to attack, overwhelming the Hongan Temple forces and pursuing them to the Kido entrance to the Ishiyama-Hongan Temple.  The Oda killed over 2,700 of their opponents en route to victory in the Battle of Tennōji.

Nobunaga ordered the construction of ten outlying castles in the environs of Ōsaka and, after assigning Sakuma Nobumori and Sakuma Nobuhide (father and son) along with Matsunaga Hisahide, to Tennōji Fortress, on 6/5, returned to Wakae Castle.


After prevailing in this battle, the Oda army stood in a superior position vis-à-vis its enemies for land war in the direction of Settsu.  Thereafter, the Hongan Temple forces did not launch attacks and, instead, focused on defending their bases.  At the First Battle of Kizugawaguchi, the Mōri navy defeated the Oda navy, temporarily reversing the situation on the battlefield.  Nevertheless, after incurring losses at the Battle of Tennōji, the Hongan Temple forces avoided another land war, while, at the Second Battle of Kizugawaguchi, the Mōri navy was decimated by the Oda.  This resulted in the decisive isolation of the Hongan forces.

In this battle, Ban Naomasa, the lead general for attacks against the Hongan Temple forces, was killed in action.  Nobunaga investigated the remnants of Naomasa’s family who fell into ruin.  Sakuma Nobumori took over the battle against the Hongan Temple, commanding the largest military force of the Oda family in the Kinai.  Nobumori remained in this position until the withdrawal of Hongan Temple forces marking the end of the Ishiyama War in 1580. Nobunaga, however, was dissatisfied with Nobumori for adopting a passive approach toward the war, prompting him to punish Nobumori with a written condemnation and demotion.  Nobumori was replaced by Akechi Mitsuhide (who Nobunaga had taken the initiative to support in this battle) to lead a huge army in the Kinai which was the de facto home base of Nobunaga.