Asakura Norikage (Sōteki)

朝倉教景「宗滴」

Asakura Clan

Bushō

Echizen Province

Lifespan:  Bunmei 9 (1477) to 9/8 of Tenbun 24 (1555)

Rank:  bushō

Clan:  Asakura

Lord:  Asakura Ujikage → Asakura Sadakage → Asakura Takakage → Asakura Yoshikage

Father:  Asakura Takakage

Mother:  Eldest sister of Keishitsu Eishō

Siblings:  Ujikage, Kageaki, Magoshirō, Kagefusa, Norikage(以千Munekatsu), Tokikage (Kagechika), Kagenori, Norikage (Sōteki)

Wife:  Daughter of Asakura Kagefuyu

Children:  Hoan Kokei, Kagetoshi (adopted)

Asakura Norikage served as the army chief of staff under three successive generations of leaders of the Asakura clan, including Asakura Sadakage, Asakura Takakage, and Asakura Yoshikage.  During this period, the Asakura clan attained the status of sengoku daimyō of Echizen Province, a testament to his notable contributions.  Norikage achieved military fame by successfully leading the Asakura army in numerous battles throughout the surrounding provinces.  Owing to his ability and experience, Norikage served as the de facto leader of the clan in both political and military affairs during his career.

Norikage was born in 1477 as the eighth son of Asakura Takakage, shugo daimyō of Echizen.  His given name of Norikage included one of the characters from his father’s name, which was also the name of his great-uncle, so that, despite his birth order, he was treated as the eldest son and lineal heir to the clan.  Norikage is commonly referred to under his posthumous name of Sōteki.  Following his father’s death in 1481, Norikage was only four, and Asakura Ujikage (his older brother), became the eight lineal head of the clan.   In 1486, Ujikage was succeeded by his eldest son, Asakura Sadakage, at a time when Sadakage was thirteen years old, while Norikage was only nine.

Plans for rebellion

Norikage first rose to prominence in 1503 in relation to a planned rebellion by Asakura Kagetoyo, lord of Tsuruga Castle.  Owing to his marriage to Kagetoyo’s younger sister, Norikage was requested to support Kagetoyo, but he refused, and instead entered the priesthood at the Ryūkō Temple where he had spent time during his youth.  He then secretly informed Sadakage of the plot, whereupon Kagetoyo was ordered to kill himself as retribution for the wrongdoing.  To acknowledge his meritorious deed, Sadakage appointed Norikage to serve as lord of Kanagaski Castle and gunji, or governor, of the Tsuruga District.  Thereafter, Norikage managed military affairs for the clan.

There is an alternative explanation.  Having been designated the lineal heir to the clan, Norikage harbored a desire to take control after becoming an adult.  He devised a plan with Kagetoyo and Asakura Kagefusa (Motokage) to usurp Sadakage.  Execution of this plan, however, proved untenable because Sadakage, and his father before him, had established a solid command structure within the clan over a period of two decades. Consequently, in the final moments before launching the rebellion, Norikage abandoned the plan and instead informed Sadakage.  After the elimination of Kagetoyo, Norikage was appointed governor of the Tsuruga District, and supported Sadakage, as the lineage of his older brother, Ujikage.

Challenges from the Ikkō sect of Kaga

Adherents of the Ikkō sect from neighboring Kaga frequently invaded Echizen in an effort to expand their influence.  These actions related to a broader struggle between the Ikkō sect (and by association the Hongan Temple) and the central authority of the Muromachi bakufu in Kyōto.  Hosokawa Masamoto, a kanrei, or deputy shōgun, maintained close ties with the Hongan Temple.  Meanwhile, the Asakura were opponents of the Hosokawa, causing Masamoto to vigorously demand the Hongan Temple to attack the Asakura and other daimyō in the Hokuriku Region.

In the spring of 1506, Rengo, the chief priest of the Honsen Temple in Kaga issued a written declaration to his followers to overthrow the Nagao clan in Etchū Province and the Hatakeyama of Noto Province.   By the summer, the conflict had spread to Echizen as well.  Warrior monks from Kaga, Etchū, and Noto converged with followers of the Kai clan to support local uprisings by members of the Ikkō sect to launch an invasion of Echizen.  In his role as the commanding general, Norikage led the Asakura army along with allied troops to confront the invading forces in the Battle at the Kuzuryū River.  The invaders may have totaled as many as 30,000 men against an Asakura army of approximately 11,000 troops.  A fierce conflict ensured in the area of the Kuzuryū River. Norikage launched a surprise nighttime attack at Naka no Gō, causing a collapse of the Ikkō forces and their retreat to Kaga Province.

Fostering prosperity for the Asakura clan

In 1517, Norikage deployed under orders from the bakufu to Wakasa and Tango provinces in support of the Takeda clan, shugo of Wakasa, to suppress a rebellion by the Hemi clan of Wakasa and the Nobunaga clan, shugodai of Tango.  In 1525, Norikage intervened in an internal conflict in Mino Province to counter Azai Sukemasa, cooperating with the Rokkaku and proceeding to Odani Castle.  Over a five-month period, he supervised the reconstruction and expansion of the 金吾嶽 on the castle grounds, maintained a base, and served as mediator between the Rokkaku and Azai clans.  Norikage proved to be very helpful to Sukemasa, forging strong bonds between the Asakura and the Azai.

In 1527, Norikage marched to Kyōto based on an urgent appeal from Ashikaga Yoshiharu, the twelfth shōgun, and Hosokawa Takakuni, a kanrei, or deputy shōgun who had fled the capital to Ōmi Province. Norikage led the Asakura army to victory against the Miyoshi forces at the Battle of Senshōjiguchi in the environs of the Senshō Temple in the Kadono District of Kyōto.  In 1528, owing to differences between Norikage and Takakuni, the Asakura withdrew from Kyōto, leaving Takakuni to become a wanderer without the benefit of their protection.

Through these actions, Norikage firmly established the prominence of the Asakura clan, having an influence that reached to the central authorities of the bakufu.  In 1527, Norikage assigned the role of governor of the Tsuruga District to his son-in-law, Asakura Kagetoshi, while continuing to serve as the military head of the clan.

The later years

In 1531, Norikage exploited internal conflict in Kaga known as the Kyōroku sakuran, or Kyōroku Disturbance, to join forces with the Hatakeyama clan of Noto and deploy to Kaga.  Although the army advanced to the Tedori River, the contingent from Noto was annihilated en route so the Asakura army withdrew.  In 1548, Norikage continued in his role as chief of staff after a youthful Asakura Yoshikage succeeded Takakage as head of the clan.  According to a letter by Norikage, in 1552, Norikage requested assistance from the Irobe clan of Echigo Province to facilitate the purchase of horses by Yoshikage from the Daihōji clan of Dewa Province. 

In 1555, Norikage responded to a request from Nagao Kagetora (later changing his name to Uesugi Kenshin) from the Uesugi clan of Echigo to again deploy to Kaga to attack followers of the Ikkō sect.  In one day after entering Kaga, the Asakura army captured the Nangō, Tsuha, and 千足 castles.  The forces then set fire to the Enuma District, established a base on Mount Shikichi near the Daijō Temple, and prepared for a prolonged conflict.  The Ikkō counterattacked against the Asakura and the battle ebbed and flowed over an extended period without a decisive victor.

This became his final deployment, as Norikage fell ill during the battle, assigning his role a commanding general of the forces to Asakura Kagetaka, and returned to Ichijōdani. Despite the medical care he received at his home base, he died at the age of seventy-nine at Ichijōdani.  His passing contributed to a settlement between the combatants at the Battle of Kawanakajima.  His son-in-law, Kagetoshi, served as governor of the Tsuruga District on behalf of the Asakura clan. 

Kagetaka inherited the role of military chief for the clan, but, unlike in the case of Norikage, failed to lead the army to victory.   Over the ensuing months, he launched attacks against the monks in Kaga to no avail.  The following year, the Kaga went on the offensive and invaded Echizen, burning villages and exerting pressure against the Asakura, compelling a settlement through the mediation of officials from the bakufu.  The clan was further beset by challenges from opponents in surrounding provinces as well as internal conflicts among its retainers.  The absence of a successor with the experience and leadership skills of Norikage ultimately proved catastrophic for the long-term survival of the clan under Yoshikage.