Oda Nobunaga Seizes Kyōto Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

In 1568, Oda Nobunaga, a warlord in central Japan, marched on Kyōto and established control there, a major step in his drive to establish the central authority lacking during the preceding century of Japanese civil wars. Nobunaga’s capital at Kyōto laid the foundation for Japanese unification.

Summary of Event

In the 1550’, Oda Nobunaga was the ruler of a small corner of the province of Owari, a domain to the south of Kyōto in central Japan. In 1560, Nobunaga was attacked by the warlord Imagawa Yoshimoto of neighboring Mikawa Province. Nobunaga was outnumbered by nearly ten to one, but he managed to surprise Imagawa’s forces during at Okehazama Okehazama, Battle of (1560) and defeated him. With the Battle of Okehazama, Nobunaga ceased to be simply a local force in Owari and became a major regional force. Following a strategic alliance with former Imagawa vassal Matsudaira Motoyasu (better known by his later name, Tokugawa Ieyasu) to protect his eastern flank, Nobunaga shifted his attention to the north. In 1561, Nobunaga’s forces attacked the domain of Mino, and by 1567, he had driven out local strongman Saitō Tatsuoki and captured his castle at modern Gifu. Kyōto, seizure of (1568)[Kyoto, seizure of (1568)] Oda Nobunaga Tokugawa Ieyasu Akechi Mitsuhide Ashikaga Yoshiaki Imagawa Yoshimoto Tokugawa Ieyasu Saitō Tatsuoki Ashikaga Yoshiaki Asakura Yoshikage Asai Nagamasa Takeda Shingen Akechi Mitsuhide Toyotomi Hideyoshi Oda Nobunaga

The conquest of Mino Province made Nobunaga a major force in central Japan. Like Owari, Mino was a very prosperous and populous domain, two factors that supported Nobunaga’s plans for further military expansion. Moreover, Nobunaga instituted a number of significant economic reforms, such as the introduction of duty-free markets, that gave impetus to trade in the region and also played into Nobunaga’s strategy: military expansion supported by a strong economic base. Economy;Japan

By 1568, Nobunaga’s gains had brought him into a position of prominence. Ashikaga Yoshiaki, one of the claimants to the position of shogun—now a largely ornamental office but one Nobunaga sought to control for the legitimacy it conferred—asked the warlord for aid in settling a succession dispute. Nobunaga brought his forces to Kyōto and installed Yoshiaki as shogun. Because of complex issues of succession, Nobunaga was unable to claim the office of shogun himself. However, he saw great potential in the symbolic power of the shogunal institution and sought to control it by dominating Yoshiaki. Nobunaga issued a number of regulations that stripped Yoshiaki of all decision-making power and placed him squarely under the control of the warlord from Owari. Ashikaga shogunate

Despite the fact that he was now securely in control of the titular head of the old regime, Nobunaga did not rest. Throughout 1569, he continued to make further territorial gains in central Japan. He enjoyed considerable success in the south, and it was only during his march north that he was seriously challenged. In 1570, Nobunaga invaded the domain of Echizen to the north of Kyōto. The local warlord, Asakura Yoshikage, called on neighbor Asai Nagamasa for aid, and when their combined forces closed in from two different directions, Nobunaga was forced to withdraw. Nobunaga quickly rallied, however, and called on his ally Tokugawa Ieyasu for aid. The pair beat back the combined armies of Asai and Asakura at the Battle of Anegawa (1570) Anegawa, Battle of (1570) , but the victory was short-lived. Asai and Asakura regrouped quickly and marched on Kyōto. Nobunaga confronted them to the north of the city and beat back their armies again. In 1571, he also razed the nearby Enryakuji, a temple complex on Mount Hiei, home of the Jōdo Shinshū Jōdo Shinshū[Jodo Shinshu] (Pure Land) Buddhists, which had a long history of interfering in the political affairs of the capital, because the monks there had offered aid to his enemies.

In 1572 Nobunaga found himself unable to strike a decisive blow against Asai and Asakura and was beset by a religious uprising known as the Ikkō Ikki Ikkō Ikki[Ikko Ikki] which had even made its impact felt in Owari, his home province. Nobunaga’s grip on Kyōto—indeed his entire power base in central Japan—-was becoming increasingly tenuous. The situation became progressively worse when his enemies made overtures toward Takeda Shingen, the most powerful of the warlords of eastern Japan. In 1573, Shingen defeated Nobunaga and Ieyasu at the Battle of Mikatagahara Mikatagahara, Battle of (1573) and marched into Ieyasu’s territory. Later that year, the Shogun Yoshiaki, who had long sought an opportunity to transform his symbolic authority into real political power, rebelled against Nobunaga.

Despite these setbacks, however, a string of victories restored Nobunaga’s fortunes. Shingen died before he was able to follow up his victories in the south, and Nobunaga was able to send forces to Kyōto, burning part of the city and sending Yoshiaki into exile. Nobunaga followed up by attacking Asai and Asakura in the north. This time he not only defeated his rivals but also killed them and claimed their domains. Nobunaga’s hegemony in central Japan looked more secure than ever.

This situation was not to last, however, and in 1574, Nobunaga found himself bested by new problems. The Ikkō Ikki staged a rebellion in Echizen, Asakura’s old province, and it slipped from Nobunaga’s control. Takeda Shingen’s old armies, now led by his son Katsuyori, now threatened Nobunaga in the east. In 1575, Nobunaga again restored his fortunes, employing firearms and a new tactic of having his men divide into three ranks so that they could provide constant fire, to defeat the Takeda forces at the Battle of Nagashino Nagashino, Battle of (1575) . He also put down the religious rebellion in Echizen with such violence that the province was once again brought under his total control.


The power base that Nobunaga built in central Japan and the prestige that he gained by exerting his control over the shogunate and the imperial court in Kyōto continued to have significant ramifications after the warlord’s death. Akechi Mitsuhide, Nobunaga’s assassin, died after his forces were crushed by the army of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. After Akechi’s death, Hideyoshi set about establishing himself as Nobunaga’s successor, continuing the slain warlord’s drive toward national unification. Despite the fact that he faced stiff resistance from Nobunaga’s other supporters, such as Tokugawa Ieyasu, Hideyoshi managed to gain control of the political and military apparatus that Nobunaga had established in the regions around Kyōto.

In addition, the economic reforms that Nobunaga introduced provided his successors with the sound economic base that he needed, not only to consolidate his position but also to support campaigns to the far east and west of the Kyōto heartland. Hideyoshi, operating from a base of operations near Kyōto, brought the southern island of Kyūshū under his control in 1587 and succeeded in subjugating the Hōjō Hōjō family, later[Hojo family, later] , the most powerful warrior family in the east, in 1590. Scattered pockets of resistance aside, these gains brought Hideyoshi what Nobunaga had pursued for his entire career: hegemony over the other warlords and the creation of a central political authority.

Hideyoshi died in 1598, and Tokugawa Ieyasu, after besting a rival coalition in combat at the Battle of Sekigahara Sekigahara, Battle of (1600) in 1600, went on to build upon the foundations of political control established by Nobunaga and strengthened by Hideyoshi. The result in 1603 was the full political unification of Japan under the Tokugawa shogunate, which continued to rule Japan until the imperial restoration of the 1860’.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sansom, George. A History of Japan, 1334-1615. 3 vols. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1961. Despite its age, Sansom’s history of premodern Japan is still the most authoritative on the subject in English. Includes detailed coverage of Nobunaga’s life and his seizure of power in Kyōto.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sato, Hiroaki. Legends of the Samurai. New York: The Overlook Press, 1995. This work contains accounts of the career of Nobunaga and his contemporaries. It also contains translations of Japanese sources.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Turnbull, Stephen. The Samurai Sourcebook. London: Arms and Armour Press, 1998. Offers encyclopedic coverage of the important figures in the history of the samurai as well as details of Nobunaga’s most famous battles and campaigns.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Turnbull, Stephen. Samurai Warfare. London: Arms and Armour Press, 1996. The best English-language history of the Japanese wars of unification with particular attention paid to Nobunaga’s career and his campaigns against Asai and Asakura.

1457-1480’s: Spread of Jōdo Shinshū Buddhism

1467-1477: Ōnin War

1477-1600: Japan’s “Age of the Country at War”

Mar. 5, 1488: Composition of the Renga Masterpiece Minase sangin hyakuin

Beginning 1513: Kanō School Flourishes

1532-1536: Temmon Hokke Rebellion

1549-1552: Father Xavier Introduces Christianity to Japan

1550’s-1567: Japanese Pirates Pillage the Chinese Coast

1550-1593: Japanese Wars of Unification

Sept., 1553: First Battle of Kawanakajima

June 12, 1560: Battle of Okehazama

1587: Toyotomi Hideyoshi Hosts a Ten-Day Tea Ceremony

1590: Odawara Campaign

1592-1599: Japan Invades Korea

1594-1595: Taikō Kenchi Survey

Oct., 1596-Feb., 1597: San Felipe Incident

Oct. 21, 1600: Battle of Sekigahara

Categories: History