The rise of Oda Nobunaga greatly alarmed the older warlords. Of the old generation, Imagawa Yoshimoto remained. He was now 50 and had been instrumental in helping his ally Takeda Shingen seize power in the early days. As far as he was concerned, Nobunaga was nothing more than a haughty upstart, Taira descendant though he may be, so Yoshimoto led a force of 40,000 men strong in a quest to crush the Oda clan head on. As his forces marched towards Owari, many daimyos submitted, seeing the superiority of the mighty Imagawa as a sign of inevitable victory.
Imagawa Yoshimoto, one of Japan’s most powerful warlord who planned to destroy the rising Nobunaga.
“The armies of Imagawa Yoshimoto are so powerful it is as though the sun-goddess Amaterasu descends upon us to erase us from the face of earth,” The villagers in the Mino clan thought.
“Surely, this is the day the Oda clan collapses,” said his friend.
Kurodashi, a noble who was assigned governor of Mino after Jinsai joined Nobunaga in Owari, realized that he was no match for Yoshimoto and surrendered without a fight. The arrogant Yoshimoto washed his foot and ordered Kurodashi to drink from the basin, whereupon the nobles of Mino performed hara-kiri (the act of killing oneself by a sword in the belly) rather than die in disgrace. Such was the shame of the Mino lands, which now fell under the Imagawa.
Surely, Yoshimoto was the mightiest warlord in Japan now that Takeda Shingen and Uesungi Kenshin were dead. Isato Horo-ochi and Matsumoto Tokei, two of Takeda’s 24 generals, now served him, and they were both valiant even in their old age. Yoshimoto felt the world belonged to him as his mighty army marched to Okehazama. As far as he was concerned, Nobunaga was nothing more than an arrogant little boy, an ant to be crushed by his little finger.
At the foot of the hill, Yoshimoto ordered his men to a great feast. The great generals Horo-ochi and Tokei were reluctant to drink in the eve of the battle, but Yoshimoto commanded them to. “Let that boy Nobunaga know that he is nothing compared to the mighty Imagawas! Today, I will erase his demon spirit.”
But Horo-ochi the Cautious reminded him, “My Lord, you are a mighty daimyo who have walked with giants like Shingen and Kenshin, but you must underestimate Nobunaga. His forces are well-managed, and it is said that at Kenshin’s deathbed, he warned his son Nagamasa to beware the Demon of Owari.”
But Yoshimoto, who was drunk himself, pulled a beautiful geisha in for Horo-ochi and jovially said, “Haiyaah! What is the use of living if you canst not enjoy it?! Don’t be such a stuck-up, Horo-ochi! How can you compare me to that little boy Nagamasa. He is of the same league as that finger-sucking baby Nobunaga. He can not muster half the army I can. Now, drink up! Enjoy…I insist it.”
So Horo-ochi drank, but his comrade Tokei drank only sparingly avoiding the bacchanalian antiques of his Lord. Hence, the Imagawa camp was in much disorder, but it was a sunny day and the clans’s size was in full sight of all. Surely, Nobunaga would not dare to tempt fate by attacking the mighty Imagawa. Surely, it was only a matter of days before the Demon of Owari would bow to Yoshimoto and acknowledge him as Lord.
But defeat was never on the mind of Nobunaga, and so he addressed his generals and soldiers, “Men of Owari! You will not disappoint me again as in the Battle of Osara. Kenshin was a legend, but Imagawa Yoshimoto is nothing more than a dog. Even now, I heard that he is feasting with his men at Okehazama. Victory shall be ours, for you ride with Nobunaga.”
But Akechi Jinsai the Doubtful spoke, “My Lord, you will know that Horo-Ochi and myself rode by the side of Lord Takeda Shingen in the earlier days, and I tell you he is a great warrior. I urge caution before the mighty Imagawas.”
Nobunaga: “And what shall be our fates, Jinsai?! Will you have me drink from the basin in disgrace that even my men Kurodashi of Mino sought to avoid? They call me the Demon of Owari, but Yoshimoto is far worse a tyrant than I am.”
The men roared approvingly. They would not bow down to the tyrant Yoshimoto despite the impossible odds, but then Harada asked a sensible question, “How shall we defeat Imagawa with Horo-Ochi and Tokei by his side?”
Nobunaga then gave stern orders, “The warriors Hatori and Kemumagi shall attack and kill Horo-Ochi before the battle. The Oda army shall disguise themselves in black and attack Imagawa at night near Okehazama. I will slay Yoshimoto myself!! The Council is adjourned. Let us speak with our actions rather than feeble words.”
In the stealth of night, Hatori and Kemumagi crept into the Imagawa camp and attacked Horo-Ochi. Although Horo-Ochi was a great warrior, he was no match for two seasoned warriors. As his sword protected his head against Kamumagi’s blow, Hatori’s sword plunged into his chest, and this was how Horo-Ochi, one of Takeda Shingen’s 24 famous generals, died at the hand of assassins.
With the death of Horo-Ochi, the 2,000 soldiers of Oda Nobunaga attacked the Imagawa camp at Okehazama. Nobunaga could actually muster 8,000, but he chose to take only
quarter of the men for the sake of speed. The attack was so audacious and unexpected that the Imagawa army broke down in their drunken unpreparedness. Some of the Imagawa men killed each other, unable to identify the enemy. The Oda soldiers were dressed in the black of night and had only a small metal mirror to identify themselves, but it was a great victory indeed.
Roughly 5,000 men of the Imagawa managed to escape back to their capital under the leadership of Tokei, who was not drunk. Another 7,000 was captured, while all the rest were slain. Nobunaga tied Yoshimoto up and said, “This is for Kurodashi and the nobles of Mino!” Then, he sliced off Yoshimoto’s head.
From then on, Nobunaga called his sword the Yoshimoto Sword. He sent his enemy’s head back to Tokei, now Regent of Imagawa. The Demon of Owari had kept his word. Now, the mighty Imagawa were no more, and the various clans, including their enemies the Hojo and their former allies the Takeda, vied to control the lands. Naturally, Nobunaga, despite the tiredness of his men, did not wish to lose the advantage. If he could only capture the Imagawa lands, he would become a powerful daimyo in his own right, but both Hojo Chinosuke and Takeda Nobukatsu had a large host eager to conquer them too. Worst of all, both the Hojos and Takeda were untired, how could the Odas defeat them?
The Battle of Okehazama was incredible in the magnificent scale of Nobunaga’s victory. He hath defeated so completely an army that was 20 times his size. Now, his fame outshone even those of earlier heroes such as Kenshin and Shingen. Even Nobukatsu, who was the son of Takeda Shingen, held him in awe as much as he detested him. Many of the Imagawa soldiers submitted to the Odas, and more reinforcements joined Nobunaga. Now, Nobunaga had a formidable force of around 15,000 men. It was at this stage that he sent Harada as an envoy to see Hojo Chinosuke, offering to divide the Imagawa lands with him in return for an alliance against Takeda. Chinosuke accepted the offer for he detested the Takedas, who hath shamed his father Soeun in battle before.
The Takeda cavalry was excellent, but fighting off both Hojo and Oda forces at the same time was too much. Chinosuke’s forces rode in from behind and cut Takeda’s forces, while Nobunaga attacked Nobukatsu from the front and broke his army. For the first time in many years, the Takeda army was forced into retreat, and the Imagawa lands were partitioned between the Hojos in the south and the Odas to the north.
Out of hatred for Nobunaga and unable to return to Takeda, Matsumoto Tokei surrendered to Hojo Chinosuke. By now, Nobunaga was one of the most powerful warlords of Japan, but his face was grim. Harada asked him why he was not happy at the conquest of the mighty Imagawas, to which Nobunaga replied, “Beware, the serpent Tokei will spew words of hatred into Hojo Chinosuke, who is our ally today.”
To which Harada urged his Lord to attack the Hojos, to which Nobunaga replied, “It is not time to wage war against the Hojos at least not now. It is easy to make enemies but not friends. I will fight him when the chance comes, but it is not today.”
But Nobunaga looked ahead in the horizon, and Harada could see that despite his concerns, there was no question in Nobunaga’s mind that he would one day become of Lord of the Rising Sun.