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Oda Nobunaga: a spark of modernity and energy amidst the chaos of the 16th century

Oda Nobunaga: a spark of modernity and energy amidst the chaos of the 16th century

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times 

Oda Nobunaga
Oda Nobunaga

Oda Nobunaga was born in 1534 and died in 1582 but his legacy in Japan is very strong and he was a remarkable leader.  In many ways, the spirit of Oda Nobunaga is often underestimated or undervalued because he challenged many conventions and he neither supported rigid stratification and nor did he bow down to the feudal mentality of Buddhism at this time.

It may be that Oda Nobunaga is stuck in Japanese history but he truly belongs to world history because of his ambition, thinking, and modern concepts of adopting change in order to transform society.

At the same time Oda Nobunaga faced many challenges because the power structure in Japan, or what can be called Japan in this time period, was based on many competing factors and the Buddhist hierarchy was powerful in many parts of Japan.

In this period of history it is difficult to find the concept of England, Japan, Germany, and virtually all future nation states because structures were lose and the centre was weak.  Also, the sense of national identity did not exist throughout the unitary nation state and these concepts only became a reality in the future.

Therefore, Nobunaga’s unification of Japan will have applied to the main power bases in Japan and the fudai system, the Ainu, the people of Ryukyu (Okinawa), ronin, and other strong daimyo’s would not be fully unified until the late 19th century because of the legacy of the Meiji Restoration in 1868.

During this period in Japan it was clear that Buddhists monks who were warlike and desired to control power, or be at the centre of power, had to be crushed in Mt. Hiei. From the Heike war and until the rise of Oda Nobunaga the Buddhist monastery of Mt. Hiei was instrumental in Japanese history.

This Buddhist monastery was instrumental in all major power processes and this especially applied to the military and political objectives of all major leaders. Therefore, Oda Nobunaga had to destroy this power concentration in order to fulfill his ambition and he truly did this because the conflict was bloody and brutal. The warlike Tendai Buddhists of Mt. Hiei were neither meek nor mild and they had to be challenged..

This conflict culminated with every single Hiei monk being slaughtered and the Buddhist monastery was destroyed.  Again, Oda Nobunaga was revolutionary because just like Islamic power structures in modern day Afghanistan which are preventing modernization and desire to preserve their power base; Oda Nobunaga would crush an established power base which was hindering Japan.

He would show no compassion but simply move on to his next objective because he knew that this victory would free him to concentrate on centralization, modernity, economic policies, strengthening the military base, and utilizing firearms in order to create a future dynamic state based on commerce and self preservation in a hostile world.

Despite the bloody reality of Oda Nobunaga he was the foundation stone and the stone he began was usurped by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Tokugawa Ieyasu and other leaders who followed him. They lacked his visionary instincts and would crush the growing Christian faith and established freedoms given to peasants under the rule of Oda Nobunaga. 

Often people will talk about a natural trinity which began with Oda Nobunaga and was followed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi and then Tokugawa Ieyasu.  It is true that both Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu continued the thinking of Oda Nobunaga when it came to centralization but this is where it ends.

History is often ironic and the same applies to what Oda Nobunaga began because his thinking would come to fruition once Tokugawa Ieyasu began the Edo period.  However, only the concept of centralization, however lose centralization may be, applied to the shared thinking of Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Oda Nobunaga was very open minded and he supported modernity and this applies to allowing Christian missions, adopting modern firearms, greater fortifications of major castles, freeing people from the constraints on trade, opening up trade for peasants, rewarding people on merit and not just family lines, and other policies which were political and based on developing the economy.

Oda Nobunaga would do all this in such a short period of time and during all this radical change he would wage war against his enemies, attack a major centre of Buddhism, form complex alliances, and set in motions the unitary state of Japan.

This unitary state of Japan, like mentioned before, was based on the power bases in Japan at this time and it must be remembered that modern day Hokkaido did not belong to Japan even during the start of the Meiji Restoration in 1868.

While many feudal leaders in the Western world, Hindu world, and Islamic world during this period supported stratification; Oda Nobunaga did not and instead he introduced major economic policies and rewarded people on merit within his system of thinking.

Oda Nobunaga, like the Hindu world, and unlike the Christian world or Islamic world in this period; supported religious freedom and he was open to new ideas in the realms of theology and thinking. 

He was revolutionary but sadly the Edo period would mainly isolate Japan, not fully because important daimyo’s like the Satsuma daimyo, would trade with Ryukyu (Okinawa), China, Korea, and other countries which would carry trade. 

However, stratification would once more be adopted during the Edo period, modernization would be curtailed, and the Christian faith would be eradicated because of major anti-Christian pogroms and massacres.

However, the spark that Oda Nobunaga unleashed was truly remarkable given this period of history and this applies to his views on modern warfare, economics, religious pluralism, tackling stratification, rewarding individuals on merit, freeing the peasants from untold misery, and other important areas.

Oda Nobunaga may belong to Japanese history but his thinking and impact during this period belongs to world history.

He was very complex and while his legacy is often seen through the prism of violence this may be because he challenged the status quo and was open to a new world.

Therefore, some Japanese historians may underestimate Oda Nobunaga based on power concentration and major constraints during the Edo period.  However, he was revolutionary and in such a short period of time he achieved so much and his legacy was maintained by Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu.

However, the legacy of unification that culminated with Tokugawa Ieyasu was not the narrow minded legacy that Odu Nobunaga desired.

Odu Nobunaga desired a more pluralistic society based on new economic theories, political modernization, and military concepts which would safeguard the centralized state and people of Japan who came under this political system.

However, his spirit is alive within major companies in Japan today which seek new technology, fresh inventions, and challenging the status quo in order to survive in a harsh economic climate.  (please visit)  –  Oda Nobunaga used Gifu for a power base and you can read about Oda Nobunaga and view the beauty of Gifu

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