A.  Nobunaga’s Directives to Yoshiaki

In 1569, Nobunaga traversed the Chigusa Ridge into Kyōto to announce to Yoshiaki the fall of the Kitabatake and the pacification of the Ise Peninsula.  After visiting Yoshiaki in his new residence, he paid a visit to the Imperial Palace to receive a congratulatory toast from the Emperor.  He returned to Gifu Castle within a week.  The outcome of his visit with Yoshiaki led, in 1570, to Nobunaga strengthening his grip on the capital by promulgating and enforcing new laws under Yoshiaki’s name.  The five directives read as follows:

  1.  The shōgun shall consult with Nobunaga prior to issuing decrees to the provinces  and such decrees shall be accompanied by correspondence from Nobunaga;
  2. All decrees issued by the shōgun prior to these directives shall be deemed invalid and subsequent decrees shall be based on new considerations;
  3. When no land is available to reward persons who have demonstrated loyalty to the shōgun (Muromachi bakufu), land from Nobunaga’s territory may be granted by decree of the shōgun;
  4. Governance shall be completely entrusted to Nobunaga, so no one shall listen to the opinion of the shōgun, and issues shall be decided at the discretion of Nobunaga;
  5. Nobunaga has pacified the capital, so no one shall neglect the affairs of the Court.

Nobunaga dispatched these directives in a sealed envelope to Akechi Mitsuhide and Asayama Nichijō, both of whom served as intermediaries in the negotiations.  Yoshiaki’s seal on the document validated his acquiescence, but not necessarily his approval.  By these terms, Nobunaga stripped Yoshiaki of the authority traditionally vested in the shōgun, and, from this time forward, Nobunaga prohibited Yoshiaki from engaging in private consultations concerning political affairs with the Court, or from acquiring any land owned by local temples or shrines to build a broader base of support. 

Yoshiaki resided in splendid quarters, but his title of shogun proved to be nothing more than a ceremonial tribute, whereas Nobunaga exercised full control in matters of governance.  Having appointed the shugo in the five provinces in the Kinai Region, Yoshiaki could not tolerate the restrictions imposed by Nobunaga.  In a bid to restore his authority, he dispatched petitions to provincial warlords near and far, pleading for their support in a plot to oust Nobunaga.  He then methodically devised an encirclement campaign.

On the same day that Nobunaga imposed the new directives on Yoshiaki, he sent a notice to a number of daimyō and senior retainers, most residing along major routes into the capital.  Recipients included, to the east, Tokugawa Ieyasu along the Tōkaidō and the Takeda clan along the Tōsandō, the Jinbō clan along the Hokuriku road to the north, and, to the west, the Amago clan of Izumo Province.  The notice stated that, to honor the Emperor, restore the bakufu, and bring peace to all regions, Nobunaga planned to visit Kyōto in the middle of the second month, so everyone should visit the capital to pay homage to the Emperor and the shōgun.  Rather than destroy these traditional institutions in Kyōto, Nobunaga used them for his own ends, manipulating the authority embodied in the Court and the bakufu to impose his own command over the daimyō. Meanwhile, anyone considering a refusal of the request would appear defiant of these symbols of authority.  Nobunaga expected the daimyō to comply, and planned to subjugate those who chose not to obey.

Following a short delay from the initial schedule, Nobunaga departed Gifu Castle in early 1570.  En route, he lodged at the Jōraku Temple and hosted a sumō event with participants from Ōmi Province.  He may have spent this additional time to observe the daimyō traveling to Kyōto in accordance with his request.  When Nobunaga arrived in Kyōto on the thirtieth, a group of court nobles and officials of the bakufu from the towns of Katata and Sakamoto in Ōmi greeted him and his small entourage. Hundreds more citizens gathered on the outskirts of the capital in the town of Yoshida. Nobunaga had orchestrated the assembly of court-affiliated personages and townspeople to serve as a prelude to the ceremonies that would follow.  Some of the daimyō who made the trek to the capital included Tokugawa Ieyasu, Kitabatake Tomofusa, Isshiki Yoshimichi, Miyoshi Yoshitsugu, and Matsunaga Hisahide.  

In the third month, Nobunaga visited Yoshiaki, and then, dressed in a regal outfit, he paid a congratulatory visit to the Emperor at the Imperial Palace with a large number of court nobles in attendance.  Nobunaga’s visit to the Emperor in the absence of Yoshiaki, the shōgun, attested to his preeminent authority at that time.       

B.  Yoshiaki’s Campaign

The campaign brought together a varied cast of local lords and deal-makers united by their opposition to Nobunaga.  Some had engaged in pitched battles among themselves. One year earlier, the Miyoshi Group of Three had attacked Yoshiaki at Honkoku Temple. They also had assassinated the former shōgun, Yoshiteru.  Yoshiaki resisted taking revenege for these acts in the hope of garnering their support to oppose Nobunaga.  The Miyoshi Group of Three responded to Yoshiaki’s bid, and set aside differences with Matsunaga Hisahide.  Meanwhile, followers of the powerful Ishiyama-Hongan Temple, who feared Nobunaga’s intrusion on their power base, eagerly joined the campaign.  In 1561, Emperor Ōgimachi officially sanctioned Kennyo Shōnin to serve as the eleventh-generation head of the Hongan Temple and served as a leading sponsor of the campaign. From the Hongan Temple, he reached out to powerful daimyō including Uesugi Kenshin, Takeda Shingen, Hōjō Ujimasa, and Mōri Terumoto, in addition to those located in closer range such as the Azai, the Asakura, and the Miyoshi.  He then rallied adherents to the sect in many provinces, who began uprisings in Echizen, Kaga, Ise, and Kii provinces. 

Under these circumstances, Nobunaga contronted not one enemy, but assorted groups of local armies engaged in shifting alliances as part of a broader struggle for control of the Kinai Region.  He also faced the threat of a western advance by Takeda Shingen, the fearsome daimyō from Kai Province.        

C.  Betrayal in Echizen Province

To secure the Kinai Region, Nobunaga needed to obtain control of Echizen Province, ruled by Asakura Yoshikage, lord of Ichijōdani Castle.  Yoshikage had offered shelter to Yoshiaki after his flight from the capital in the wake of the assassination of Yoshiteru. Nobunaga knew of this relationship, which gained special importance in light of the rising tensions between Nobunaga and Yoshiaki soon after Yoshiaki’s appointment as the shōgun.  Yoshikage had failed to respond to Nobunaga’s request early in 1570 for the daimyō located far-and-wide to pay homage in Kyōto.

1.  Initial Incursion

Using the refusal by Yoshikage to pay homage as a pretext for war, in the spring of 1570, Nobunaga set out with thirty thousand troops to attack him in Echizen.  Yoshikage knew the consequences of his refusal, and anticipated an advance on a route going directly from northern Ōmi to Echizen.  Nobunaga, however, proceeded indirectly through Wakasa, adhering to his rule always to go around the anticipated line of defense of the enemy.  Nobunaga had supporters in Wakasa, such as Awaya Katsuhisa, to offer lodging and assistance along the way.

Within a day’s march north of Lake Biwa lay three castles defended by retainers of the Azai.  Nobunaga’s forces first attacked Tezutsuyama Castle near Tsuruga Bay, killing over one thousand three hundred defenders in the rout.  Next, the forces attacked Hikita and Kanegasaki castles, both located to the north of Lake Biwa.  Nobunaga then passed Konome Ridge, arriving within striking distance of the main base of Yoshikage at Ichijōdani Castle.

2.  Sudden Retreat from Kanagasaki

Azai Nagamasa, lord of Odani Castle in Ōmi Province, stood as a long-time ally of the Asakura clan.  He became head of the clan at age sixteen, ushering his inept father, Hisamasa, into early retirement.  Under Hisamasa’s reign, the Rokkaku family commanded the obedience of the Azai clan, but Nagamasa promptly extricated his clan from their grip.  Nagamasa was married to Nobunaga’s beautiful younger sister, Oichi-no-kata, forming the basis for an alliance between the Oda and the Azai.

Nagamasa betrayed Nobunaga and launched a pincer attack with the forces of Rokkaku Yoshikata, who had earlier fled to the mountains of northern Ōmi following defeat.  The attack occurred near Kanagasaki Castle, just as Nobunaga’s forces headed toward Kinomesaki and beyond to Asakura Yoshikage’s main base.  The brilliant attack caught Nobunaga by surprise, exposing him to grave danger.  He responded instinctively, ordering Hideyoshi and his elite troops to serve as the rear guard so he could lead the main contingent to safety.  The ability of Hideyoshi and his men to secure the safe retreat of the remaining forces affirmed Nobunaga’s faith in his superior abilities as a commander.

Hideyoshi’s men had to be sternly disciplined, well-organized, and tenacious fighters to ward off the attacking forces.  They needed to impede the advance of the Azai long enough to allow Nobunaga and the army accompanying him to retreat, and then manage a way to remove their own troops without being cut off.  Arquebuses and spears did not provide sufficient firepower to pin down the Azai from afar, so Hideyoshi relied upon natural features of the land to gain a tactical advantage.  He positioned his front line of defense near the convergence of a tributary to the Shōnō and Kinome rivers that blocked the advance of the enemy.   Farther south, he positioned a second line of defense near a valley that hampered the movements of the large contingent of the Azai.  His men fought valiantly to protect the rear flank of the retreating forces, and managed to escape themselves with the help of men led by Tokugawa Ieyasu.  Asakura Kageakira gallantly led over twenty thousand men as far as Mino Province in pursuit of the fleeing army.

In an attempt to avoid destruction by the surprise attackers, Nobunaga took a roundabout course from the Tsuruga Plain to the town of Mikata and rushed back toward Kyōto via the Kutsuki Valley.  Along the way, he benefited from safe passage by Kutsuki Mototsuna, formerly allied with the Azai.  During the retreat, opposing forces shot and injured Ikoma Ienaga, a retainer of Nobunaga from Owari, while he sought to protect his lord.

In light of the marriage alliance, Nobunaga initially disbelieved rumors of the planned attack by the Azai.  Nagamasa, however, had his own reasons for choosing to support the Asakura.  The Azai had a long alliance extending over many years with the Asakura.  In addition, Nobunaga broke a promise to inform Nagamasa prior to attacking Yoshikage, and Nagamasa may have seen this as reason to attack.  Nobunaga chose to advance toward Echizen without warning to Nagamasa based on the value he placed on secrecy over the risk that Yoshikage would hear of the impending attack in time to prepare his defenses. 

Stalled by Hideyoshi’s tenacious stand, the Azai later attempted to block Nobunaga’s return from Kyōto to his home base at Gifu Castle.  Nobunaga sent retainers to strategic positions along the route between Kyōto and Gifu in anticipation of further attacks. After setting out for Gifu, a sniper named Sugitani Zenjubō sent by Yoshikata fired at Nobunaga in Chigusagoe and hit his helmet ornament.  Nobunaga did not give chase but headed straight back to Gifu.

Nobunaga returned to Gifu; however, he could not rest easily.  Riots by followers of the Ikkō sect erupted in Ōmi, and Yoshikata continued the resistance, so he devised a plan to position his six top commanders in a line along the southern coast of Lake Biwa. Nobunaga positioned his commanders from east to west as follows: Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Niwa Nagahide, Nakagawa Shigemasa, Shibata Katsuie, Sakuma Nobumori, and Akechi Mitsuhide.  Beginning in the fifth month of 1570, he executed this plan as a means to counter Rokkaku Yoshikata and Azai Nagamasa following their masterful attack a month earlier.  Nobunaga’s decision to dispatch such a formidable contingent of men attested to the gravity of the threat posed by his opponents in the region.

Yoshikata confronted these developments by making conciliatory gestures to Nobunaga, but soon combined with followers of the Ikkō sect to strengthen the opposition.  Katsuie and Nobumori led an attack in the following month, finally defeating Yoshikata at Ishibe Castle.  Thereafter, senior commanders from the Rokkaku clan pledging cooperation with Nobunaga included Aochi Shigetsuna, Gamō Katahide, Gotō Takaharu, and Shindō Katamori.

3.  The Battle of Ane River

Odani castle, the home of the Azai, stood as an impregnable fortress, towering at a height upwards of three hundred meters over the surroundings.  As a rule of the day, it required ten times as many men to capture a fortress than to defend one, but Nobunaga did not possess this numerical advantage.  Nobunaga determined that to defeat the Azai, he would need to lure them out of the castle and into a field battle.  He launched the plan by capturing Yokoyama Castle, located on the border of Ōmi and Mino on a strategic route to Echizen.  This triggered debate within the Azai camp, eventually leading to a decision to engage Nobunaga’s forces outside Odani Castle rather than forfeit the territory around their home base. 

Soon thereafter, on a sultry summer day in 1570, the allied forces of Yoshikage and Nagamasa squared off against the allied forces of Nobunaga and Ieyasu across the Ane River.  Yoshikage and Nagamasa commanded about twenty thousand troops versus thirty thousand men under the direction of Nobunaga and Ieyasu.  The troops in the field wielded a potent assortment of arquebuses, long spears, and swords.  Led by Sakai Tadatsugu, a battalion from Ieyasu’s army commenced the first assault, but Nagamasa’s troops repelled them.  Then, a stunning attack headed by Isono Kazumasa in Yoshikage’s army soundly defeated the first unit in Nobunaga’s army.  In these early stages, Yoshikage and Nagamasa appeared to have the upper hand.  Yoshikage himself, however, did not appear on the front lines. 

After having lost several lines of men, the success of Ieyasu’s men inspired Nobunaga’s forces.  The thrust up the center by Nagamasa’s men had left them stretched thin, making them vulnerable to attack on the flanks.  Seizing this opportunity, Inaba Yoshimichi, a battalion commander under Ieyasu, attacked them from the left, and other forces stormed from the right.  Unable to withstand attackers on both flanks, Nagamasa’s forces soon scattered in disarray.  In another account, Ieyasu fired up his warriors from Mikawa, including Ikeda Tsuneoki, to stage a brilliant assault on the flank of Yoshikage’s forces.  This turned the tide so dramatically that Yoshikage and Nagamasa never recovered, but fought valiantly to the end.  One such warrior was Magara Naozumi, who brandished a nearly two-meter sword while on the run, cracking helmets and halting several of Ieyasu’s men in their pursuit.  Endō Naotsune served as a bold and courageous general under Nagamasa.  According to one account, he feigned being a member of the Oda army, and approached their camp with a head of one of his men to show Nobunaga, but just as he drew near to Nobunaga, Takenaka Shigenori spotted and struck him down.  His bravery impassioned other retainers of the Azai to make a blistering attack on the Oda and face a glorious defeat.

The Oda pursued the retreating forces to the Oyori and Toragose hills, but Nobunaga called them back before reaching Odani Castle.

4.  Aftermath of the Battle

Despite the success achieved by Nobunaga’s army at Ane River, the Miyoshi Group of Three (sanninshū) remained a continuing threat.  In the summer of 1570, Miyoshi Nagayasu entered into an alliance with followers of the Ishiyama-Hongan Temple.  Several months later, he lent support to counter an attack by Nobunaga from his base at Nakashima Castle in Settsu Province.  Meanwhile, Iwanari Tomomichi, another member of the Miyoshi Group of Three, raised arms from Yodo Castle in Yamashiro Province and Isono Kazumasa, a commander in the Azai army, continued the resistance from Sawayama Castle in southern Ōmi.

In the following month, Nobunaga departed from Gifu Castle with thirty thousand men to confront Miyoshi Yasunaga and his men camped at Noda-Fukushima in Settsu. Yasunaga intended to move toward the capital.  In route to their destination, Nobunaga’s army clashed in Tenman with monks from the Enryaku Temple.  This decisive moment in the relationship of the Hongan Temple with Nobunaga marked the first direct confrontation between Nobunaga and the intransigent monks.