In Feudal Japan, This Ambitious Warlord Rose To Blood-Soaked Victory, Then Was Betrayed

Statue of Oda in Kiyosu Park, Japan. Photo Credit

During the 16th century, Japan was politically fragmented. Warlords fought for control of local provinces. The weak government of the shogun could not maintain the peace or central authority.

Out of the chaos rose Oda Nobunaga, a warlord with the ambition to make the nation his own.

Rise to Power

Oda Nobunaga was the son of a noble in Owari Province. On his father’s death, a struggle broke out for control of the Oda Clan. Through political and military maneuvering, he defeated his relatives and took his father’s place as head of the clan.

So began his rise to greater power. In 1560, he defeated a superior army in battle at Okehazama. It impressed other daimyos, the warlords vying for control of Japan. Through political marriages, Nobunaga increased his control of the surrounding area.

The support of able lieutenants was crucial to his rise. One of his commanders built a fortress base just to capture an opposing fortress in 1564.

Audacious and Innovative

Nobunaga was a bold and innovative leader. He was willing to push himself and his men to the limit for the sake of victory. He made use of surprise and daring maneuvers to defeat his opponents.

He was also willing to try new tactics and technology. At a time when firearms were coming to the attention of the Japanese nobility, he grasped their potential and used them in his armies.

Seizing the Shogunate

The leadership of Japan was complicated. In theory, the nation was ruled by an emperor, but for hundreds of years, the emperor had been a figurehead for the shogun, a military dictator. Since 1477, the shogun himself had been a figure of little power, unable to govern the war-torn nation.

Nobunaga was ambitious. He wanted to rule the whole of Japan. To achieve it, he decided to follow a path shown by other daimyos, creating a puppet shogun through whom he could rule from the capital of Kyoto.

In 1568, the perfect man arrived.

Re-enactors portray gunners at the Nagashino Battle Festival. Photo Credit

Ashikaga Yoshiaki had been brother and heir to the shogun who was assassinated in 1565. The assassins put their own man on the throne. Yoshiaki went on the run, looking for a daimyo to help him take his rightful place as shogun.

Nobunaga took up Yoshiaki’s cause. After defeating their enemies at the Battle of Sakai, he marched into Kyoto and made Yoshiaki the shogun.


With the shogun compliant, Nobunaga set about bringing the country under his control.

His first major challenge was bringing the Asai and Asakura Clans to heel. In Nobunaga’s first campaign against the Asakura, he captured several fortresses before having to retreat when a relative betrayed him.

Again, he advanced from Kyoto, threatening the Fortress of Odani. The Asai and Asakura were forced to face him in battle. Fighting across the shallow Anegawa River, Nobunaga won. With those clans put in their place, he moved on to his next target.

Facing the Ikko-Ikki

The Ikko-Ikki were a powerful social movement. Their brand of militant Buddhism had rallied an army a century before. They had taken control of the province of Kaga and menaced neighboring regions. As a religious sect, they had temples in Nobunaga’s lands. There they used economic as well as military power, withholding taxes to get their way. He could not permit such a strong internal and external enemy and set out on several years of campaigns against them.