A. Confronting Resistance

The most formidable challenge confronting Nobunaga was not opposing warlords leading cavalries adorned in resplendent armor, but rather the violent resistance of local samurai and peasants to governance by outsiders.  Sharing strong religious convictions and a selfless desire to die in name of Buddhism, these adherents struck fear in even the most capable of warlords.  Among religious organizations, the Ishiyama-Hongan Temple wielded the most influence across central Japan.  The Hongan Temple originated from the Jōdō Shinshū Buddhist sect and had a long history prior to the advent of Nobunaga.  Its followers permeated local governing bodies and founded temples to promote their influence.  Uprisings by the sect first occurred in the mid-fifteenth century and continued sporadically until the end of the sixteenth century.   

As a beneficiary of broad support among adherents and those opposed to Nobunaga’s hegemony, the sect proved to be an intransigent enemy.  The sect amassed substantial revenues collected by monks in the upper echelons of the temple hierarchy.  At its peak, it extended into as many as thirty provinces from which to amass warring monks, weapons, and supplies.  A strict organizational hierarchy, augmented by the fierce loyalty of its members, allowed for rapid mobilization whenever and wherever needed.  Moreover, the sect wielded considerable secular authority, and achieved official status as the temple of the highest order in all Japan.         

Nobunaga’s army could conquer enemies in direct battle, but the disparate uprisings led by monks posed a unique and difficult challenge to his pacification efforts.  Monks hailing from Echizen, Kaga, Kii, Ōmi and other provinces throughout central Japan closely guarded the sect’s temples and towns.  Organized in small bands of several hundred members, the monks trained with innovative weapons including the arquebus, in addition to the bow and spear.  These monks joined the uprisings out of a sense of duty to protect their way of life as defined by membership in the sect. 

Kaga Province served as the home for the Ikkō, a key branch of the Hongan Temple, whose members fiercely opposed the threat of external governance to their sect.  Following the demise of the Togashi clan, the Ikkō controlled Kaga under a communal form of governance for almost one hundred years dating back to the time of the long war known as the Ōnin-Bunmei no ran that persisted from 1467 for over a decade.  This war in Kyōto divided the Togashi clan, a governing shugo, with one side joining Togashi Kōchiyo in support of the western army and the other aligning with his older brother, Masachika, and the eastern army.  Kōchiyo reached out to kokujin including the Asō, the Kosugi, the Nuka, and the Takada for their support, initially driving Masachika out of Kaga.  Masachika then solicited support from Asakura Toshikage in neighboring Echizen, and Toshikage allied himself with Rennyo Kenju of the Hongan Temple.    

Kenju, the eighth high priest of the sect, founded an expansive settlement in Yoshizaki on the border of Kaga and Echizen provinces.  Its residents dug a moat and built an embankment to ward-off attacks by outside monks and other invaders.  A venerable priest, Kenju survived large-scale attacks on Katata and the conflagration at Enryaku Temple to promote his evangelical agenda.  During his lifetime, he had five wives and twenty-seven children, and his sons later founded branches in Kyōto and the surrounding provinces to promote the spread of the sect throughout the Kinai Region and beyond.  The monks from the Hongan Temple controlled Kaga Province to the north of the capital from 1488.

Masachika, with the support of the Ikkō monks and kokujin including the Motoori, the Tsukinohashi, and the Yamakawa, returned to Kaga and prevailed over Kōchiyo’s forces, toppling him at Rendaiji Castle.  This outcome, together with the eventual victory of the eastern army in Kyōto under Hosokawa Katsumoto that brought to an end the Ōnin-Bunmei no ran, boosted the prominence of the Hongan Temple.  The defeat of Kōchiyo, however, gave rise to a conflict between Masachika and Kenju owing to the policy of the Ikkō monks to remit their rice taxes only to the temple.  Although a priest in title, Kenju’s position as the head of a major religious organization with grassroots support afforded him access to personnel and material resources beyond those of a provincial lord.  Within less than a year following the defeat of Kōchiyo, Masachika attempted to suppress the Ikkō, compelling Kenju to flee his base in Yoshizaki and commit to a holy war against those who sought to control the affairs of his sect.  The ensuing conflict ended with Masachika taking his own life at Tako Castle, marking the overthrow of a provincial shugo by the monks.   

Generations later, Nobunaga waged a protracted struggle against the Hongan Temple and sought to eliminate its support among local peasantry wherever possible, but the Ikkō monks demonstrated tireless loyalty to their cause in a series of standoffs and fierce confrontations with the Oda forces over an extended period from 1568 until 1580. Nobunaga battled monks in other regions as well, including those at the Enryaku Temple, which he considered an impediment to his bid for control of Kyōto and its environs.  Monks associated with the Saiga clan of Kii Province were fierce adherents of the Jōdō Shinshū sect and those from Mikawa Province carried a reputation as intrepid warriors.

B.  Alliance with the Azai and Asakura

Meanwhile, the Azai and Asakura forces regrouped after their loss at Ane River to continue their resistance against Nobunaga.  Isono Kazumasa, commander of an advance guard of the Azai army during the battle at Ane River, broke through the Oda forces and took refuge at Sawayama Castle.  The Oda controlled the majority of southern Ōmi, but Kazumasa, along with some of his supporters, remained loyal to the Azai.  In the seventh month of 1570, Nobunaga ordered Niwa Nagahide to encircle the castle.  He then traveled to Kyōto to announce this confrontation to the shōgun, Yoshiaki.  Kazumasa needed timely support to break the siege because he knew the routes to the north would soon become impassable with the onset of winter.  He made a plea to Nagamasa, but Nagamasa believed him to be colluding with Nobunaga and trying to lure him and his men into a trap.  Convinced of the betrayal, Nagamasa even crucified Kazumasa’s mother who he held hostage. 

In the autumn of 1570, they advanced with thirty thousand men through a gap in the southern flank to the towns of Ōtsu and Sakamoto in Ōmi.  They proceeded to surround Usayama Castle, defended by Nobunaga’s younger brother, Oda Nobuharu, and Mori Yoshinari.  Accompanied by less than one thousand men, Nobuharu and Yoshinari joined with Aochi Shigetsuna to repel the advance, but all died in the ensuing battle on the outskirts of Sakamoto.

Hearing this news, Nobunaga quickly broke the siege at Noda-Fukushima and headed toward Kyōto.  His contingent first crossed over Aisaka and then camped in Sakamoto. The geography near Mount Hiei consisted of steep hills and deep valleys to impede the threat of attack.  Nobunaga urged the monks from Enryaku Temple on Mount Hiei to collude on the condition they would be able to maintain control of their temple lands.  If they refused, he threatened to burn down their facilities on Mount Hiei.  The monks decided instead to lead the Azai and Asakura to the forts of Tsubokasa and Aoyama to mount a standoff against Nobunaga.  A demand to turn over control of temple lands led to a change of course by leaders of the Hongan Temple who had first met Nobunaga’s demand to make offerings to the shogunate but who then sided with the Miyoshi in opposition to Nobunaga shortly thereafter. 

As retribution, Nobunaga devised plans to burn down the temple and surrounding monasteries.  Operating from Usayama Castle in Ōmi, Nobunaga directed his forces to encircle Mount Hiei and to reinforce defenses on the route to Kyōto.  This resulted in a standoff with the Azai and Asakura in the hills above.  During the same time, remnants of the Rokkaku clan originating from Kannonji Castle conducted guerilla activities in the southern regions of Ōmi.  Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Niwa Nagahide suppressed these activities by attacking and capturing Mikumo Castle from Rokkaku Yoshikata.

Inokai Nobusada, based in Katata near Lake Biwa, surrendered to Nobunaga, severing the transportation and supply routes by land and sea for the Azai and Asakura between northern Ōmi and Echizen.  This severely limited their ability to maintain their defenses from the hills surrounding Mount Hiei.  Late in 1570, the Azai and Asakura attacked Katata.  Sakai Masahisa died in battle, and Nobusada narrowly escaped by boat.  The loss of Masahisa was particularly regrettable, owing to his aptitude in administering affairs in the Kinai Region and the valuable support he gave Shibata Katsuie and Mori Yoshinari in battles preceding the fateful attack.  Nobusada served as a daikan under Akechi Mitsuhide to govern the shipping and fishing activities in Lake Biwa, a role in which he exercised considerable authority.     

The onset of winter cold and snowy weather further complicated the circumstances faced by the Azai and Asakura.  Knowing that the army must soon retreat to Echizen to avoid losing its mobility during the winter months, the commanders of the Azai and Asakura sent pleas to Ashikaga Yoshiaki, the shōgun, to negotiate with Nobunaga for a withdrawal. 

Nobunaga initially refused Yoshiaki’s offer to mediate a resolution.  Instead, he requested Yoshiaki to have the Court issue an edict for conciliation.  Yoshiaki feigned ignorance of his collaboration with the Azai and Asakura, and although Nobunaga knew Yoshiaki’s real intentions, he remained silent in order to make use of Yoshiaki to pursue his objectives.  Yoshiaki received an imperial edict from Emperor Ōgimachi declaring that the situation be quickly resolved.  After disclosing this in Sakamato to both armies, each side dispatched a representative to negotiate a settlement. After reaching an agreement, they exchanged the children of Ujiie Naomoto and Shibata Katsuie as hostages, and, on the following day, each army withdrew as agreed.  The Oda army withdrew to Atsuta, whereas the Azai and Asakura descended from the hills to the Takashima District.  Nobunaga returned through Sawayama to Gifu – pondering along the way his next move against the monks at Mount Hiei who had thrown their support to the Azai and Asakura.  Akechi Mitsuhide served as lord of Usayama, and Nobunaga ordered him to pacify the jizamurai in the Shiga District of Ōmi.  This preceded an assault on Enryaku Temple at nearby Mount Hiei.

Nobunaga ordered Nagahide to pacify uprisings by the Ikkō sect in Nagashima, and assigned Hideyoshi to continue the siege of Kazumasa at Sawayama Castle.  Hideyoshi sought to capture the castle by spring, so he took steps such as blocking the supply routes on Lake Biwa.  Without provisions, it would only be a matter of time before the defenders in the castle would capitulate so he dispatched Hachisuka Masakatsu and Maeno Nagayasu to mediate their surrender.  Early in 1571, Kazumasa agreed to turn over the castle upon request that Hideyoshi spare the lives of his five hundred men.  Being one to favor reconciliation over bloodbath, Hideyoshi consented and allowed Kazumasa and his men to abandon the castle and travel by boat to Takashima.  Nakajima Naochika, another supporter of the Azai, followed in kind by surrendering Taiozan Castle and fleeing to Odani Castle.  Afterwards, Nobunaga appointed Kazumasa lord of Shinjō Castle, and, along with Kutsuki Mototsuna, he served Nobunaga in Takashima. Nobunaga assigned Nagahide to Sawayama Castle.

Meanwhile, operating from his base at Odani Castle, Azai Nagamasa continued his campaign against Nobunaga by lending support to guerilla operations conducted by his retainers and members of the Ikkō sect.  In 1571, they attacked Katsura Motozumi in Minoura.  Hideyoshi responded to this news by departing with a small contingent from his base at Yokoyama Castle and defeated the assailing forces.  Hideyoshi soon found himself in another battle when Azai clan members Akao Kiyofune, Asai Inori, and Miyabe Keijun led a failed assault by over one thousand men against Yokoyama Castle. Following the attack, Hideyoshi demonstrated his conspiratorial prowess by convincing Keijun to defect to Nobunaga’s army.  Keijun set about proving himself by launching an attack with three hundred men against Nomura Naotaka, lord of Kunitomo Castle and a retainer of the Azai, but Keijun failed to overcome the defenders and suffered injuries during the attack.

C.  Collapse of the Campaign

1.  Conflagration on Mount Hiei

In the autumn of 1571, Oda forces crushed uprisings by members of the Ikkō sect in the Kanzaki District of Ōmi.  A contingent of thirty thousand men launched attacks in Moriyama and Kanegamori, crossed the southern tip of Lake Biwa, and pressed the attack on to the harbor town of Sakamoto.  The forces then turned toward neighboring Mount Hiei, which served as the home for Enryaku Temple.  Scouts informed Nobunaga that Enryaku temple stood vulnerable to an attack.  Nobunaga had them set fires to the temple buildings and the village surrounding Mount Hiei.  In the evening, the resulting conflagration turned the mountain into a blaze of red flame, destroying the main hall, twenty-one monasteries, hundreds of lodges, and the entire village below the temple. Some three thousand residents of the temple perished in the attack.  The attack occurred in Sakamoto at the base of the mountain while a massacre occurred at the 380-meter Mount Hachioji.

The attack on Enryaku Temple dealt a severe setback to his religious opponents.  In a single blow, he destroyed their home base, along with the traditional authority of the ancient temple.  This ruined the holy grounds that served as the site for their worship. The devastating event led to an end of financial support to the Azai and the Asakura clans and sent a clear message to all other opponents who invited his retribution that the military response would be imminent, destructive, and merciless.

 2.  Showdown with the Azai and the Asakura

In the summer of 1572, Nobunaga departed from Gifu Castle with a contingent of fifty thousand men to confront Nagamasa at Odani Castle.  Nobutada, a nephew who had just celebrated his Coming-of-Age ceremony at the beginning of the year, accompanied him. The army first stopped at Hideyoshi’s base at Yokoyama Castle.  The men then deployed to the Toragosen and Unjaku hills, whereupon Nobunaga ordered his top commanders, including Sakuma Nobumori, Shibata Katsuie, Niwa Nagahide, Hachiya Yoritaka, and Hideyoshi, to surround Odani Castle.  Within one week after their arrival, they established a fort in preparation for an attack on the nearby castle.      

In anticipation of the impending attack, Nagamasa summoned the help of Asakura Yoshikage in Echizen.  Yoshikage responded in the summer of 1572 by dispatching Asakura Kageakira with a cavalry of five thousand men to Odani, and he led fifteen thousand men himself to Odani and set-up an encampment at Ōzuku.  Early in the eleventh month, Azai Inori led an advance guard to breach an embankment between their camp and Toragosen hills, but Hideyoshi repelled them.  The impending winter caused Yoshikage to withdraw his forces to his home base at Ichijōdani Castle in Echizen.  Nobunaga’s army remained in a standoff with the Azai near the base of the Odani hills.  A senior commander of the Asakura, Maeba Yoshitsugu, betrayed the clan and pledged allegiance to Nobunaga. 

Other crises confronting Nobunaga compelled him to return to Gifu.  First, members of the Ikkō sect in Nagashima increased the scope and intensity of their uprisings. Meanwhile, in the autumn of 1572, Takeda Shingen, the powerful warlord from Kai Province, departed from his home base with a large army destined for the capital.  Two months later, Shingen defeated the allied forces of Nobunaga and Ieyasu at the Battle of Mikata-ga-hara.  Shingen stood as one of the few warlords willing and able to counter Nobunaga’s self-proclaimed ascendancy to the rank of supreme leader. 

In the summer of 1573, a fierce battle ensued at Odani Castle, and Nagamasa burst out against the Oda forces, but the Oda severed his line of retreat, so he fled into the quarters of a commander named Akao Kiyotsuna and took his own life.  Kiyotsuna struggled in vain to ward off the invading forces, but fell hostage, and when hauled before Nobunaga, requested execution.  Following an offer to spare his cousin Shinpei, Kiyotsuna calmly faced his end.  Nobunaga’s forces pressed on to Ichijōdani Castle, forcing Yoshikage to depend for support on Asakura Kageakira in Ōno, but Kageakira, who formerly had headed the forces to halt the initial incursion into Echizen by Nobunaga, had since shifted his loyalties to Nobunaga, and he betrayed Yoshikage.  Sunk with despair at the unexpected betrayal, Yoshikage’s final chapter ended in the autumn of 1573 at Katamatsu Temple.

Hideyoshi made significant contributions to confront attackers during the initial failed incursion into Echizen and thereafter at the Battle of Ane River.  As a result, in 1573, Nobunaga appointed him lord of Nagahama Castle in Ōmi with a fief of twelve thousand koku.