Story of Japan - R. Van Bergen

A Great General

A poor priest in one of the villages of Japan had a son named Nobunaga (noh-boo-nah'-gah). This priest claimed that his ancestor was the great Taira who had ruled over Japan; he said that when the Taira were hunted down by the Minamoto, the widow of one of Taira's sons fled with her little boy to a small village, whose mayor afterwards married her. After some time it happened that a priest, passing through the village, saw the boy and took a fancy to him. He went to see the mother and father, and obtained their consent to take the boy with him. He promised that he would give him a good education and make a priest of him. This man kept his word. The boy grew up to be a priest and married, and became the ancestor of Nobunaga and his father.

The boy, Nobunaga, was a great fighter, and was shrewd besides. He did not like the way the country was governed, and although his father himself was a priest, the son disliked the convents and looked with disfavor on the power and wealth which they had acquired. He enlisted as a warrior when but a boy, and was so brave and skillful in war that he was still young when he had taken a province and made himself a daimio, or lord. But he was not yet satisfied. He continued making war upon his neighbors until he had captured three other provinces, one of which was near the old capital Kyoto. And now something happened that gave him the opportunity to enter the capital with his army.

The Ashikaga regent was murdered in the year 1574. This, in itself, was not very remarkable, for it happened often enough in those days, and really the country did not suffer any loss; but it was a murder, and our friend Nobunaga said that murder was a crime, and must be punished. He declared also that the late regent's brother had the right to succeed him, and that he, Nobunaga, would see justice done. He was as good as his word. He entered the capital and appointed the regent: but he made himself vice regent, which means that he did the governing and that the other was only a puppet.

Sumari marching


But Nobunaga had work to do, and it was work that required great energy and a firm hand. First of all, the fighting among the great daimio or chieftains had to be stopped. This was not so very difficult, for since they quarreled among themselves, they were not powerful enough to oppose the vice regent's well-drilled troops. But he had more difficulty in dealing with the powerful Buddhist convents. The city of Osaka, about thirty-seven miles from the capital, Kyoto, had been fortified by them. Five powerful castles, having strong connections, defended this city. After a long siege, he captured three of these castles, but the other two held out, and he tried to starve them into surrender. When at last the inmates were suffering from famine, they attempted to cut their way through the besiegers during the night, but they were driven back after showing the greatest courage.

Now Nobunaga was threatened in his rear. He had left only a small garrison at Kyoto, and was informed that one of the daimio and an army of monks from the wealthiest convent of Japan had marched upon the capital. Leaving a sufficient number of troops before Osaka, he himself hastened to the relief of Kyoto, and defeated his opponents. Nobunaga thereupon proceeded to the convent, drove the monks out, and set fire to the buildings. He then returned to Osaka, which surrendered.

Temple in Kyoto


Nobunaga had two lieutenants trained by him, in whom he had great confidence. Both were able and brave men. The first was Hideyoshi (hid-ee-yosh-ee). At first this man had no name to boast of, for he was only the son of a poor peasant, and therefore had no right to be a warrior. He began life as a betto (bet-toh)  or groom of Nobunaga; but he showed so much skill and courage, that first he was allowed to enter the ranks and afterwards received a small command. In this he proved so successful, that he was again and again promoted, until he was second in command to Nobunaga.

He was very small in size, ill formed in limbs, and altogether made a very poor impression. The redeeming features were his eyes, especially when he smiled; but I must tell you his story in another chapter, after I have given an account of Nobunaga's death.



Hideyoshi was besieging a castle which was defended so stubbornly that Nobunaga went to his assistance. On his way the latter heard that there was a conspiracy in the palace of the capital, and, leaving his troops to continue their march, he went with a small band to Kyoto. When night came on, he sought shelter in a Buddhist convent. In the middle of the night this cloister was surrounded by the clansmen of one of his captains upon whom he had played some practical joke. This captain attacked the convent and set fire to the buildings. When Nobunaga saw that no escape was possible, he ended his life in the samurai fashion; that is, he committed hara-kiri.