Japan in the 16th century was a land of small feudal principalities ruled by daimyos (lords) and a shogun in Kyoto who held much more power than the figurehead emperor. It was a period of unrestrained warfare in Japan. Into this mix stepped Oda Nobunaga.
Nobunagas father was a minor daimyo in the province of Owari, east of Kyoto. Nobunaga succeeded to his father’s position at the age of 16. He defeated his rival daimyo, Imagawa Yoshimoto, when the latter tried to enter the capital city of Kyoto in 1560. Nobunaga then entered an alliance with Tokugawa Iyeyasu (1542—1616). He expand¬ ed his power base through marriages and defeated other daimyos or won their alle¬ giance.
Nobunaga conquered the large province of Mino in 1562 to 1564 and made an alliance with Yoshiaki, the younger brother of the recently assassinated shogun. Nobunaga occu¬ pied the city of Kyoto in 1568 under the pre¬ text that it was in danger. He took the title of vice-shogun for himself, and when Yoshiaki tried to build an alliance of equals with him, Nobunaga drove him from the city.Nobunaga did not replace Yoshiaki, thereby ending the Ashikaga shogunate which had ruled Japan since 1338.
Having removed the last formal barrier to his own power, Nobunaga proceeded to build a castle on Lake Biwa. He welcomed Jesuit priests from Europe and traded with Portugal to import firearms, which made his power all the more unassailable. Nobunaga then turned against the Buddhist priests of his own coun¬ try. His forces destroyed the vast Buddhist monastery at Enryaku, near Kyoto, and killed most of the monks there. He also captured the castle-monastery of Osaka; the True Pure Land Buddhist sect never recovered from the blows Nobunaga directed against it.
Nobunagas greatest victory came at the Battle of Nagashino in 1573. His 30,000 troops met the 15,000-man army of Takeda Katsuyri. Nobunagas opponent had by far the larger number of samurai cavalry, but Nobunaga defeated him by placing 3,000 of his best arquebusiers (musketmen) behind palisades. The gunfire caused great losses to Katsuyri’s mounted forces.
By 1582, more than 150,000 Japanese had accepted Christianity, a situation Nobunaga had encouraged. He controlled 32 of the 68 provinces ofJapan at the time of his death. He was assassinated by the same Buddhist retainer whom he had ordered to destroy Mount Hiei.