Saturday, December 6, 2014

Chapter 16. The Fall of Ashikaga

In the thirtieth year of His reign, the Emperor Teijo passed away and died of leprosy and was succeeded by his younger brother Emperor Haisanjo. The Shogun Ashikaga Yoshiaki was disgusted of leprosy and did not attend the Imperial funeral, much to the anger of Emperor Haisanjo, who summoned Oda Nobunaga, the most powerful daimyo in Japan, to meet him.

Oda Nobunaga, the Demon of Owari, ended two centuries of Ashikaga rule. He is recognized as the greatest strategist of the Sengoku period.

“Do you know the importance of the Sei-Tai-Shogun position, Nobunaga?” The Emperor stood asking him from the plush palace in Kyoto.

“The Sei-Tai-Shogun is the general who protects the House of Yamato from all barbarians internal and external,” replied Nobunaga.

“And what is the greatest virtue of the man entrusted to such esteemed position?”, continued the Emperor.

“Why? Of course. It is unquestioning loyalty to your Majesty’s Chrysanthemum Throne,” replied Nobunaga without hesitation.

“Good,” the Emperor concluded, “I no longer trust Yoshiaki. His obvious insults to my Heavenly brother can not go unpunished. If you destroy him, then I shall name you Shogun in his stead.”

With these words, Nobunaga knew he would soon reach the apex of his career. All he had to do was crush the Ashikaga and any loyalist. But with the secret edict of Emperor Haisan-jo in his hands, the formidable asurangi army, and more Portuguese guns supplied by the Christian merchants and priests of Nagaski, how could victory fall from his grasp?

So Nobunaga replied with the simple words, “Thy Will be Done.”…and now the die was cast. The Ashikaga hath ruled Japan for two centuries. Now, the once minor warlord of Owari would challenge him as the Hojos hath done before him.

As Nobunaga marched out against the Ashikaga, the Uesungi clan led by Nagamasa, son of Uesungi Kenshin, opposed him, branding him as a traitor who turned the Emperor

against the Shogun. The Asakura clan was led by Asakura Keita. In reality, Keita’s son Tadatatsu was Nobunaga’s brother-in-law, but Keita himself was an ally of the Uesungi. There was great controversy within the clan. In the end, daimyo Keita overruled his son and pledged his cooperation with the Shogun. A dutiful son, Nagamasa vowed to fight Nobunaga to a bitter end, despite his affections he clearly had for his wife.

Nobunaga was not without allies…and vassals, of course. As his five generals helped him command the brunt of the Oda army, Tokugawa Ieayasu marched by his side on the left flank, while the Maeda clan led by the young warrior Maeda Kaeji, son of the daimyo, formed his frontal attack. It was the Hojos who formed the formidable right flank. Nobunaga also ordered Chikuzabe fleet to attack the Ashikaga and their allies from the northern seas.

Amongst his vassals, only the Takedas refused to mobilize. In fact, the Takedas remained hateful of Nobunaga. Three of the original generals joined the Shogun’s alliance. Nosaku Maruto, one of Shingen’s favorite generals, was made Supreme Commander of the Ashikaga Grand Army. Nishimura Aesako, the only female general to serve Shingen as one of the original 24 generals, helped the Asakuras. She was said to be beautiful in her younger years, but she was old now. Nevertheless, there was some strong grace that remained in her. Finally, Uzumi Hashimoto served the Uesungis, despite the Takedas being traditional enemies of the Uesungis. Hashimoto said that his vengeance for Nobunaga’s blood overrode all else.

And in this manner, the great Japanese Civil War began…

For the first time in many years, the Ashikaga finally had a capable commander in Nosaku Maruto. Maruto looked at the troops and said, “I realize that Ashikaga has improved by using asurangi gunmen as the Takeda and Oda armies, but it is not enough to defeat Nobunaga! We must be ingenious. In this war, we will use cavalry and speed. Charge into their lines before the gunmen can recover!”

Certainly, Nobunaga hath not expected this from Maruto, for he did not have wooden walls ready like in the battle against Takeda Nobukatsu, but he saw the danger as Maruto led the light cavalry charging against him, for the asurangi would not have been able to fire many shots in that time. So Nobunaga ordered men to fish out caltrops in the space ahead of them and ordered archers and asurangi gunmen to stand side by side. They shot as many horsemen as they could, but it was not enough.

Soon Maruto’s men reached the Oda lines, but luckily, many fell off the horse due to the caltrops. They were spikey irons that always fell with at least one sharp side up. As the horsemen in front fell, Nobunaga’s infantry samurai rushed in to finish them, but it was a bitter fight but both sides suffered severe losses. The Ashikaga asurangis dared not shoot for fear of hitting their own well-trained cavalry. After bitter losses, Maruto retreated with half of his cavalry killed, but Nobunaga’s main army was barely in the shape to pursue them.

Luckily, the Hojo army led by Hojo Totomi swooped down with another cavalry army and crushed the Ashikaga. Nevertheless, Maruto and many Ashikaga troops safely made it back to the shogunal capital of Muromachi safely.

Nobunaga looked at Maruto and said, “This is a man to remember. We defeated him with only great pain to ourselves…if I can even call this victory.”

Meanwhile, Uesungi Nagamasa attempted to come to the Maruto’s rescue, but he was blockaded by Tokugawa Ieayasue and Maeda Kaeji in a sandwich attack. Nagamasa fought bravely, and was almost able to push the Tokugawas and Maedas back. But Kaeji challenged Nagamasa to a duel.

The brave Nagamasa, son of the hero Kenshin himself, took up the challenge, and fought well, but Kaeji’s strengths were superhuman and his swordplay was amongst the finest in Japan. After a long fight, Kenshin bested him and captured him, and so the Uesungi clan surrendered before reinforcements arrived.

Realising that the Uesungi clan hath surrendered and that Nagamasa was captured, Asakura Keita sought to relieve him, but just as he arrived, he heard that an army led by the Mori clan and the Chikuzabe navy was now threatening his stronghold in Hiroshima. Because of this, Keita returned to Hiroshima.

Nobunaga was worried about the safety of his sister and so ordered Harada and Hideyoshi to rescue her from the citadel of Hiroshima. In truth, her husband Tadatatsu realized the purpose, but he also felt she would be safer back in Owari, so he allowed Hideyoshi to scale the citadels and rescue her. Keita, the Daimyo of Asakura, was so furious, for he hath hoped to use his daughter-in-law as a hostage against Nobunaga.

Seeing no other means left, Keita marched out to fight the Oda army to a bitter end, but alas, the Oda allies were now too great for him. The combined force of the Chikuzabe navy, the Mori army, and forces led by Harada overwhelmed him. In the end, Keita died from a stray shot.

Tadatatsu locked himself up in the room, while Hideyoshi delivered the ultimatum, “Come out, Tadatatsu. Let there be no blood feud between us. Lord Nobunaga will soon be Shogun. He forgives you and will appoint you as daimyo of the Asakura clan in Hiroshima.”

But Tadatatsu did not reply. His honor was tainted by defeat, and so he committed hara-kiri. Nobunaga’s sister Ryuko jumped from the top of the citadel and followed her husband to death.

The last defenders led by Aesako was gunned down by Hideyoshi. As she died in the hand of her lover Akechi Jinsai, she breathed her last words, “Take care of our child, Mariko. She deserves a good husband.”

Jinsai wept as he heard these words. He had performed his duty well, for he was now one of Nobunaga’s generals but the pain of the service was eating him. He did not even have time to make his promise to her…and so in this manner, the House of Asakura fell without an heir.

The siege of Muromachi lasted six months, but eventually in that winter, Shogun Ashikaga Yoshiaki surrendered to Nobunaga. Both Supreme Commander Maruto and General Hashimoto committed hara-kiri rather than follow the Shogun into disgrace. Hojo Totomi urged his Lord Nobunaga to execute Yoshiaki, for he hated the Ashikaga deeply. They hath been enemies of the Hojos since the time of his uncle Hojo Soeun, but Nobunaga refused to do so. He allowed Yoshiaki to live in exile.

In the fourth year of his reign, Nobunaga ordered a pompous entourage to escort the Emperor Haisan-jo from Kamakura to his new capital in Kobe. There, the sakura petals fell. Men and women sang his praises, and the Emperor bestowed the position of Sei-tai-Shogun to Oda Nobunaga, Lord of Owari. Henceforth, no one dared to call Nobunaga the ‘Demon of Owari’ anymore, for he was now blessed of the Yamato Emperor and rightful Lord of Japan.

Nobunaga and the warrior Maeda Kaeji visited Uesungi Nagamasa, son of the hero Kenshin, in his cell and urged him to serve the new Oda Bakufu (military government). At first, Nagamasa rejected him outright, but Nobunaga asked, “Is this what your father, Lord Kenshin, would have wanted? He was the only man who ever defeated me in a fair fight.”

Whereupon Nagamasa said, “In truth, it is. You are the Demon of Owari, though men no longer call you so. I swore to oppose you till the ends of my days.”

Nobunaga was rather fond of his alias. He laughed and asked Nagamasa, “I see, so your father would rather see the Uesungi clan reside with the Demon of Owari and have no noble man from Uesungi to fend for them.”

Nagamasa was furious, but he realized the truth of Nobunaga’s words. In due time, he agreed to pay allegiance to Nobunaga on the understanding that he was to govern the Uesungi clan as daimyo again. Nagamasa also became sworn brothers with Maeda Kaeji, and so in this manner, the Empire was pacified under Nobunaga’s rule.

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