The Wandering Shogun
After the shogun and his party had found refuge with Nobunaga, they were lodged at a temple in Gifu. Vain and small-minded as they were, all that the shogun's retainers wanted to do was to display their own authority. They did not realize the extent of the changes occurring among the common people, and as soon as they had settled in, they began to behave in a highhanded, aristocratic manner, and complained to Nobunaga' retainers:
"This food doesn't taste quite right."
"The bedding is much too coarse."
"I know this cramped temple is just a temporary residence, but it reflects poorly on the shogun's dignity."
They went on, "We would like to see the treatment of the shogun improved. For the present, you might select some picturesque spot for the new shogun's palace and begin its construction."
Nobunaga, hearing of their demands, considered these men to be pitiable. Immediately summoning Yoshiaki's retainers, he told them, "I've heard that you wish to have me build a palace for the shogun because his present residence is so cramped."
“Indeed!" their spokesman replied. "His present lodgings are so inconvenient. As the shogun's residence, they lack even basic amenities."
Well, well," Nobunaga answered with some contempt. "Aren't you gentlemen thinking rather slowly? The reason the shogun appealed to me was so that I might drive out Milyoshi and Matsunaga from Kyoto, recover his lost lands, and restore him to his rightful place."
“Unworthy as I am, I consented to take on this great responsibility. More than that, I think that I should be able to realize the shogun's hopes for him in the very near future. How am I going to have the leisure to build a palace for him? And do you gentlemen really want to give up your hopes of returning to Kyoto to reestablish a national government? Would you be satisfied to spend your lives quietly in some scenic place in Gifu, and become early recluses in a large palace, with your meals provided by your host?"
Yoshiaki's attendants withdrew without saying another word. Thereafter, they did not complain so much. There was nothing false about Nobunaga's grand words. As summer turned to fall, Nobunaga ordered a general mobilization of Mino and Owari. By the fifth day of the Ninth Month, nearly thirty thousand soldiers were ready to go. By the seventh day, they were already marching out of Gifu for the capital.
At the great feast in the castle the night before the army's departure, Nobunaga had told his officers and men, "The commotion in the country, which is the result of territorial disputes among rival lords, is causing endless distress to the people. It is hardly necessary to mention that the misery of the entire nation is the anguish of the Emperor. It has been the iron rule of the Oda clan—from the time of my father, Nobuhide, to the present—that the duty of the samurai must be, first and foremost, the protection of the Imperial House. Thus, in our march on the capital at this time, you are not an army acting for me, but one that is acting in the name of the Emperor."
Every one of the commanders and men were in high spirits at the proclamation to set out.
For this great enterprise, Tokugawa Ieyasu of Mikawa, having recently bound himself in a military alliance to Nobunaga, also sent a thousand of his own troops. At the departure of the entire army, some voiced criticism.
"The Lord of Mikawa hasn't sent many men. He's sly, just as we've always heard."
Nobunaga shrugged this off with a laugh. "Mikawa is reforming its administration and economy. It has no time for other considerations. For him to send a large number of troops right now would mean great expense. He's going to be frugal even if he is criticized, but he's no common commander. I suspect that the troops he sent are his best men."
Just as Nobunaga had expected, the one thousand soldiers from Mikawa under Matsudaira Kanshiro were never outstripped in any battle. Always fighting in the vanguard, they opened the way for their allies, their courage bringing all the more fame to Ieyasu's name.
Every day the weather continued to be beautiful. The thirty thousand troops marched in black lines beneath the clear autumn sky. The column was so long that when the vanguard had reached Kashiwabara, the rear guard was still passing through Tarui and Akasaka. Their banners hid the sky. As they passed the post town of Hirao and entered Takamiya, there was some shouting from up ahead.
"Messengers! There are messengers from the capital!"
Three generals rode out to meet them.
"We wish to have an audience with Lord Nobunaga." They carried with them a letter from Miyoshi Nagayoshi and Matsunaga Hisahide.
When this was related to headquarters, Nobunaga said, "Bring them here."
The messengers were brought in immediately, but Nobunaga sneered at the message of reconciliation in the letter as a trick of the enemy. "Tell them I will give them my answer when I reach the capital."
As the sun rose on the eleventh, the vanguard crossed the Aichi River. The following morning Nobunaga moved toward the Sasaki strongholds of Kannonji and Mitsukuri. Kannonji Castle was held by Sasaki Jotei. Jotei's son, Sasaki Rokkaku, prepared Mitsukuri Castle for a siege. The Sasaki clan of Omi were allied with Miyoshi and Matsunaga, and when Yoshiaki had sought shelter with them during his flight, they had tried to murder him.
Omi was a strategic area along Lake Biwa on the road to the south. And here the Sasaki waited, boasting that he would destroy Nobunaga just as Nobunaga had annihilated Imagawa Yoshimoto, in a single blow. Sasaki Rokkaku left Mitsukuri Castle, joined forces with his father at Kannonji, and distributed his troops among the eighteen fortresses in Omi.
Shading his eyes with his hand, Nobunaga looked down from high ground and laughed. "This is a wonderful enemy line, isn't it? Just like in a classic treatise."
He ordered Sakuma Nobumori and Niwa Nagahide to take Mitsukuri Castle, placing the Mikawa troops in the vanguard. Then he said, "As I told you the night before we left, this march on the capital is not a personal vendetta; I want it understood by every soldier in the army that we are fighting for the Emperor. Do not kill those who flee. Do not burn the people's homes. And, as far as possible, do not trample over the fields where crops have not yet been harvested."
The waters of Lake Biwa were still invisible through the morning mist. Darkly piercing that mist, thirty thousand men began to move. When Nobunaga saw the flare that signaled the attack on Mitsukuri Castle by Niwa Nagahide's and Sakuma Nobumori’s troops, he ordered, "Move the headquarters to Wada Castle."
Wada Castle was an enemy stronghold, so Nobunaga's order meant to attack and take the castle. He said it, though, as if he were ordering his men to move into an unoccupied position.
"Nobunaga himself is coming to attack!" the commanding general of Wada Castle shouted in response to the lookouts on the watchtower. Striking the hilt of his sword, he harangued the garrison: "This is heaven-sent! Both Kannonji and Mitsukuri Castle would have been able to hold for at least a month, and during that time the Matsunaga and Miyoshi forces and their allies to the north of the lake would have cut off Nobunaa’s path of retreat. But Nobunaga has hastened his own death by attacking this castle. A wonderful opportunity indeed! Do not let this piece of martial luck escape. Take Nobunaga's head!"
The entire army screamed its assent. They were confident that the iron walls of the Sasaki clan could hold out for a month, even though Nobunaga commanded an army of thirty thousand men and had many able generals. The powerful provinces surrounding them also believed this. But Wada Castle fell in half a day. After a battle lasting a little over four hours, the defenders were routed, and fled into the mountains and to the shores of the lake.
"Do not pursue them!" Nobunaga ordered from atop Mount Wada, and the banners erected there so quickly could clearly be seen under the noonday sun. Covered with blood and mud, the men gradually collected under the banners of their own generals. Then, raising a shout of victory, they ate their noonday rations. A number of messages continued to come in from the direction of Mitsukuri. The Tokugawa forces from Mikawa, which had been positioned as the vanguard for Niwa and Nobumori, were just now fighting courageously, bathed in blood. Moment by moment, messages of success collected in Nobunaga's hand.
The report of Mitsukuri's fall reached Nobunaga before the sun had set. As evening neared, black smoke rose from the direction of the castle at Kannonji. Hideyoshi's forces were already pressing in. The command for an all-out attack was given. Nobunaga moved his camp, and the entire force of Mitsukuri and its allies were pushed back to Kannonji Castle. By the time evening fell, the first men had breached the walls of the enemy castles.
Stars and sparks filled the clear autumn night sky. The attacking forces surged in. Viclory songs were raised, and to those allied with the Sasaki, they must have sounded like the heartless voice of the autumn wind. No one had expected that this stronghold would fall in but a single day. The fortress at Mount Wada and the eighteen strategic points had been no defense at all against these billowing waves of attackers.
The entire Sasaki clan—from women and children to its leaders, Rokkaku and Jotei—stumbled and fought through the darkness, fleeing from the flames of their castles to the fortress at Ishibe.
"Let the fugitives flee as they will; there will be enemies still ahead of us tomorrow." Nobunaga spared not only their lives, but also ignored the vast amount of treasure they carried with them. It was not Nobunaga's style to tarry along the way. His mind was already in Kyoto, the center of the field. The castle at Kannonji stopped burning at the keep. As soon as Nobunaga entered what was left of it, he showed his appreciation to his troops, saying, "The horses and men should be given a good rest."
He himself, however, did not rest much. That night he slept in his armor, and as morning broke, he gathered his senior retainers for a conference. Again he commanded decrees to be posted throughout the province, and immediately sent Fuwa Kawachi off with the command to bring Yoshiaki from Gifu to Moriyama.
Yesterday he had fought at the head of an army; today he was taking the reins of the administration. This was Nobunaga. Temporarily giving four of his generals responsibilities as administrators and magistrates in the port city of Otsu, two days later he crossed Lake Biwa, nearly forgetting to eat as he issued order after order.
It was the twelfth of the month when Nobunaga struck into Omi and attacked Kannonji and Mitsukuri. Then, by the twenty-fifth, Nobunaga's army had gone from the aftermath of battle to setting up notices of the new laws for the province. One road to supremacy, to the center of the field! With that, the warships from the east shore of Lake Biwa were lined up, and they sailed for Omi. Everything from the preparation of the ships to the loading of the rations for the soldiers and feed for their horses involved the cooperation of the common people. Certainly they crouched in fear of Nobunaga's miliary strength. But more than that, the fact that the common people of Omi united in support of him was due to their approval of his style of government, which they trusted as reliable.
Nobunaga was the only man who had rescued the hearts of the common people from the flames of war and who had committed himself to them publicly. When they asked themselves what was to become of them, he reassured them. In such situations, there is no time to establish a detailed political policy. Nobunaga's secret was nothing more than to do things swiftly and decisively. What the common people clearly wanted in this country at civil war was not a talented administrator or a great sage. The world was in chaos. If Nobunaga was able to control it, they would accept a certain amount of hardship.
The wind on the lake reminded one that it was autumn, and the water drew beautiful long patterns in the wake of the myriad boats. On the twenty-fifth, Yoshiaki's boat crossed the waters of the lake from Moriyama and landed near Mii Temple.
Nobunaga, who had already landed, expected an attack by Miyoshi and Matsunaga, but it did not come.
He greeted Yoshiaki at the temple, saying, "It's the same as if we've already entered the capital."
On the twenty-eighth, Nobunaga at last pushed his troops toward Kyoto. When they reached Awataguchi, the army stopped. Hideyoshi, who was at Nobunaga's side, galloped forward at the same time that Akechi Mitsuhide was hurrying back from the van.
"What is it?"
Nobunaga, too, was surprised, and hurriedly dismounted. The two messengers arrived with a letter from the Emperor.
Bowing low, Nobunaga responded reverently, "As a provincial warrior, I have no other abilities than taking up the weapons of war. Since my father's time, we have long lamented the grievous condition of the Imperial Palace and the uneasiness in the Emperor's heart. Today, however, I have come to the capital from a far corner of the country to guard His Imperial Majesty. No other responsibility would be a greater honor for a samurai, or a greater joy for my clan."
Thirty thousand soldiers silently and solemnly swore an oath with Nobunaga that they would obey the Emperor's wishes.
Nobunaga made his camp at Tofuku Temple. On the same day, proclamations were set up throughout the capital. The disposition of the police patrols came first. The day watch was given to Sugaya Kuemon, and the night watch to Hideyoshi.
One of the soldiers from the Oda army was out drinking, and a victorious soldier will easily become arrogant. Drunk and having eaten his fill, he tossed down a few coins that amounted to less than half of what he owed, and walked out, saying, "That should do."
The proprietor ran out after him, yelling, and when he tried to grab the soldier, the man struck him and then swaggered away. Midway through his rounds, Hideyoshi witnessed the incident and immediately ordered the man's arrest. When he was brought to headquarters, Nobunaga praised the police, stripped the soldier of his armor, and had him bound to a large tree in front of the temple gate. The nature of the offense was then signposted, and Nobunaga ordered the man to be exposed for seven days and then beheaded. Every day, an immense number of people traveled back and forth in front of the temple gate. Many of them were merchants and nobles, and there were also messengers from other temples and shrines, and shopkeepers transporting their goods.
The passersby stopped to read the placard and look at the man bound to the tree. Thus the common people in the capital witnessed both Nobunaga's justice and the severity of his laws. They saw that the law posted on placards all over town—that the theft of even a single coin would be punished by death—was to be strictly enforced, starting with Nobunaga's own soldiers. No one uttered any discontent.
The phrase "a one-coin cut" became common among the people for the sort of punishment meted out by Nobunaga's rule. It had been twenty-one days since the army's departure from Gifu.
After Nobunaga had settled the situation in the capital and returned to Gifu, he turned away from the matters that had preoccupied him and found that Mikawa was no longer the weak, poverty-stricken province it had once been.
He could not help marveling secretly at Ieyasu's vigilance. The lord of Mikawa had not simply been content to be a guard dog at the back gate of Owari and Mino while his ally, Nobunaga, marched off to the center of the field. Rather than let the opportunity go by, he had expelled the forces of Imagawa Yoshimoto's successor, Ujizane, from the two provinces of Suruga and Totomi. This, of course, was not through his own strength alone. Connected with the Oda clan on the one hand, he was also in collusion with Takeda Shingen of Kai, and he had a pact with the latter to divide and share the two remaining provinces of the Imagawa. Ujizane had been a fool and had given both the Tokugawa and Takeda clans a number of good excuses to attack him.
Even though the country was in chaos, every military commander understood that he could not start a war without some reason, and that if he did, the battle would be lost in the end. Ujizane was operating an administration against which the enemy could take just such a moral stand, and was weak-minded enough to be unable to see what the future held. Everyone knew he was an unworthy successor to Yoshimoto.
The province of Suruga became the possession of the Takeda clan, while Totomi became the Tokugawa clan's domain. On New Year's Day of the thirteenth year of Eiroku, Ieyasu left his son in charge of the castle at Okazaki, and he himself moved to Hamamatsu in Totomi. In the Second Month, a message of congratulations came from Nobunaga:
Last year, I myself mentioned my long-cherished desire and had some small success, but nothing could be more felicitous than adding the fertile land of Totomi to your own domains. Collectively, we have become all the stronger.
In early spring, Ieyasu went to Kyoto in the company of Nobunaga. Of course the purpose of the trip was to enjoy the capital in the springtime and to relax beneath the cherry blossoms, or so it appeared. From a political perspective, however, the rest of the world looked at the two leaders meeting in Kyoto and wondered what it was really about.
But Nobunaga's trip this time was really just a magnificent and leisurely progress. Alone, the two of them would spend the entire day hawking in the fields. At night Nobunaga held banquets and had the popular songs and dances of the villagers performed at their inn. All in all, it looked like nothing more than an outing. On the day Nobunaga and Ieyasu were to arrive at the capital, Hideyoshi, who was in charge of the defense of Kyoto, had gone out as far as Otsu to greet them. Nobunaga had introduced him to Ieyasu.
"Yes, I've known him for a long time. The first time I met him was when I visited Kiyosu, and he was among the samurai stationed at the entrance to greet me. That was a year after the battle of Okehazama, so it was quite a while ago." Ieyasu looked directly at Hideyoshi and smiled. Hideyoshi was surprised at how good the man's memory was. Ieyasu was now twenty-eight years old. Lord Nobunaga was thirty-six. Hideyoshi was going to be thirty-four. The battle of Okehazama had taken place a good ten years before.
When they had settled down in Kyoto, Nobunaga first went to inspect the repairs being done on the Imperial Palace.
"We anticipate that the Imperial Palace will be finished by next year," the two construction overseers informed him.
"Don't be stingy with the expenses," Nobunaga replied. "The Imperial Palace has lain in ruins for years."
Ieyasu heard Nobunaga's comments and said, "I truly envy your position. You have been able to demonstrate your loyalty to the Emperor in actual fact."
"That's so," Nobunaga answered without modesty, and nodded as though he approved of himself.
Thus, Nobunaga not only rebuilt the Imperial Palace, but he also revised the finances of the court. The Emperor was pleased, of course, and Nobunaga's loyalty impressed the people. Seeing that the nobles were at ease and that the lower classes were at peace and in harmony, Nobunaga truly enjoyed the time spent with Ieyasu during the Second Month, viewing the cherry blossoms, and attending tea ceremonies and concerts.
Who would have known that, during that time, his mind was preparing to strike through the next set of difficulties? Nobunaga initiated his actions as new situations developed, and moved ahead with the outlines of his plans and their execution even as he lay sleeping. Suddenly, on the second day of the Fourth Month, all of his generals received summonses to meet at the residence of the shogun.
The large conference room was full.
“This concerns the Asakura clan of Echizen," Nobunaga began, revealing what he had been planning since the Second Month. "Lord Asakura has ignored the numerous requests of the shogun and has not offered a single piece of lumber for the construction of the Imperial Palace. Lord Asakura was appointed by the shogun and holds the position of retainer to the Emperor, but he thinks of nothing but the luxury and indolence of his own clan. I would like to investigate this crime myself, and assemble a punitive force of soldiers. What are your opinions?"
Among those under direct control of the shogunate, there were a number of men who had old friendships with the Asakura clan and who supported the clan indirectly; but no one disagreed. And as a large number of men voiced frank approval quite readily, no one spoke under the added pressure of the large group.
To attack the Asakura would mean a campaign to the northern provinces. It was a major undertaking, but the plan was approved in a very short time. On the very same day a proclamation went out that an army would be assembled, and by the twentieth day of that month it had already been mustered at Sakamoto. Added to the troops of Owari and Mino, were eight thousand Mikawa warriors under Tokugawa Ieyasu. A force of close to one hundred thousand men now stretched along the lakeshore at Niodori, in the bright Fourth Month of late spring.
Reviewing the troops, Nobunaga pointed toward the mountain range to the north. "Look! The snow covering the mountains of the northern provinces has melted. We'll have the flowering of spring!" Hideyoshi had been included in this army, and led a contingent of troops.
He nodded to himself, thinking, "Well, while Lord Nobunaga was entertaining himself in the capital with Lord Ieyasu this spring, he was also waiting for the snows to melt in the mountain passes leading to the northern provinces."
But more than that, he considered how Nobunaga's real skill had been in inviting Ieyasu to the capital. Indirectly he had displayed his own strength and achievements so that Ieyasu would not begrudge the forces he would be sending. This was Nobunaga's skill. Even with the chaos the world is in, it's going to be united by his ability. Hideyoshi believed this was true, and understood more than anyone else that the significance of this battle was in its absolute necessity.
The army advanced from Takashima, passed Kumagawa in Wakasa, and marched toward Tsuruga in Echizen. On and on it went, burning the enemy's fortresses and border posts, crossing mountain after mountain, and attacking Tsuruga within the month.
The Asakura, who had been making light of the enemy troops, were astonished that they were already there. Just half a month earlier, Nobunaga had been reveling in the spring flowers of the capital. The Asakura could not believe, even in their dreams, that they were looking at his banners here in their own province, even if he had been able to make his military preparations so quickly.
The ancient Asakura clan, descended from the imperial line, had risen to prominence for helping the first shogun, and later had been granted the entire province of Echizen.
The clan was the strongest in all the northern provinces; this was acknowledged by itself and others. The Asakura ranked as participants in the shogunate, they were rich in natural resources, and they could depend on great military strength.
When he heard that Nobunaga had already reached Tsuruga, Yoshikage almost chided the man who had informed him. "Don't lose your head. You're probably mistaken."
The Oda army that fell upon Tsuruga made its base camp there and sent out battalions to attack the castles at Kanegasaki and Tezutsugamine.
"Where's Mitsuhide?" Nobunaga asked.
"General Mitsuhide is in command of the vanguard," a retainer replied.
"Call him back!" Nobunaga ordered.
"What is it, my lord?" Mitsuhide asked, hurrying back from the front lines.
"You lived in Echizen for a long time, so you should be especially familiar with the geography between this area and the Asakura's main castle at Ichijogadani. Why are you fighting out there for some tiny achievement with the vanguard, without devising some greater strategy?" Nobunaga inquired.
"I'm sorry." Mitsuhide bowed as though Nobunaga had somehow struck him deep inside. "If you will give me your order, I will draw you a map and submit it for you observation."
"Well then, I'll give you a formal order. The maps I have at hand are rather crude, and there seem to be places where they might be totally incorrect. Check them with the maps you have, correct them, and give them back to me."
In Mitsuhide's possession were finely detailed maps with which Nobunaga's could not compare. Mitsuhide withdrew and then returned with his own maps, which he presented to Nobunaga.
"I think you should look over the lay of the land. And I think I'd better make you an officer on my field staff." After that, Nobunaga would not let Mitsuhide stray far fron headquarters.
Tezutsugamine, the castle defended by Hitta Ukon, soon surrendered. But the castle at Kanegasaki was not so quick to fall. In this latter castle, Asakura Kagetsune, a twenty-six-year-old general, stood his ground. When he had been a monk in his youth, there were those who said it would be a pity for a warrior of his physique and disposition to enter holy orders. Thus he was forced back into secular life and quickly put in charge of a castle, distinguishing himself even within the Asakura clan. Surrounded by more than forty thousand troops commanded by such veteran generals as Sakuma Nobumori, Ikeda Shonyu, and Mori Yoshinari, Kagetsune looked down from the castle watchtower with an unperturbed expression, and broke into a smile.
Yoshinari, Nobumori, and Shonyu staged a general attack, staining the walls with blood and holding fast like ants for the entire day. When they counted the bodies at the end of the day, the enemy had lost over three hundred men, but the corpses of their own forces exceeded eight hundred. That night, however, the castle at Kanegasaki stood majestic and indomitable under a huge summer moon.
"This castle is not going to fall. And even if it does, it will not be a victory for us,” Hideyoshi told Nobunaga that evening.
Nobunaga looked a bit impatient. "Why won't it be a victory for us if the castle falls?” There was, on such occasions, no reason for Nobunaga to be in a good mood.
"With the fall of this one castle, Echizen will not necessarily be overthrown. With the capture of this one castle, my lord, your military power will not necessarily increase."
Nobunaga interrupted him, asking, "But how can we advance without overcoming Kanegasaki?"
Hideyoshi suddenly turned to the side. Ieyasu had come in and was just standing there. Seeing Ieyasu, Hideyoshi hurriedly withdrew with a bow. He then brought in some matting and offered the lord of Mikawa a seat next to Nobunaga.
“Am I intruding?" Ieyasu asked, and then sat down on the seat Hideyoshi had provided. To Hideyoshi, however, he gave not the slightest recognition. "It seems as though you were in the middle of some discussion."
"No." Motioning toward Hideyoshi with his chin and softening his mood a bit, Nobunaga explained to Ieyasu exactly what they had been discussing.
Ieyasu nodded and stared fixedly at Hideyoshi. Ieyasu was eight years younger than Nobunaga, but to Hideyoshi it seemed the other way around. As Ieyasu looked at him, Hideyoshi could not imagine that his manner and expression were those of a man in his twenties.
"I agree with what Hideyoshi has said. To waste further time and injure more men with this one castle is not a sound policy."
"Do you think we should call off the attack and press on to the enemy's main stronghold?"
"First let's hear what Hideyoshi has to say. It seems he has something in mind."
"Yes, my lord."
"Tell us your plan."
"I don't have a plan."
"What?" Nobunaga was not the only one whose eyes showed surprise. The expression Ieyasu's face was a little perplexed, too.
"There are three thousand soldiers inside that castle, and its walls are hardened with their will to take on an army of ten thousand men and fight to the death. Even though it's small, there's no reason why the castle should fall easily. I doubt that it would be shaken even if we did have a plan. Those soldiers are men, too, so I imagine they must be susceptible to true human emotions and sincerity…."
"You're starting up again, eh?" Nobunaga said. He did not want Hideyoshi's tongue to wag any more than it had already. Ieyasu was his most powerful ally, and he treated him with extreme courtesy; but the man was, after all, lord of the two provinces of Mikawa and Totomi, and was not a member of the Oda clan's inner circle. More than that, Nobunaga was well enough attuned to Hideyoshi's mind that he didn't have to hear his thoughts in detail in order to trust him.
"Fine. That's fine," Nobunaga said. "I give you the authority for whatever you have in mind. Go ahead and carry it through."
"Thank you, my lord." Hideyoshi withdrew as though the matter were of no particular consequence. But that night he entered the enemy castle alone and met with its commander, Asakura Kagetsune. Hideyoshi opened his heart and spoke to the young master of this castle.
"You come from a samurai family, too, so you're probably looking at the end result of this battle. Further resistance will only result in the deaths of valuable soldiers. I, in particular, do not want to see you die a useless death. Rather than that, why don't you open up the castle and retreat properly, join forces with Lord Yoshikage, and meet us again, on a different battlefield? I will personally guarantee the security of all the treasures, weapons, and women and children inside the castle, and send them to you without trouble."
"Changing the field of battle and meeting you on another day would be interesting, Kagetsune replied, and went to prepare the retreat. With the full courtesy of a samurai, Hideyoshi allowed the retreating enemy all accommodations, and saw them off to a league beyond the castle.
It took a day and a half to settle the matter of Kanegasaki, but when Hideyoshi informed Nobunaga of what he had done, his lord's only response was, "Is that so?" and he added no great praise. The look on Nobunaga's face, however, indicated that he seemed to be thinking, You did too well—there is a limit to meritorious deeds. But Hideyoshi's great achievement could hardly be denied, regardless of who judged the matter.
If Nobunaga had praised him to the skies, however, it would have created a situation in which the generals Shonyu, Nobumori, and Yoshinari would have been too ashamed to face their lord again. After all, they had sent eight hundred soldiers to their deaths and had been unable to defeat the enemy even with an overwhelming number of men. Hideyoshi was even more sensitive to the feelings of these generals, and when he made his report, he did not credit his own idea as the source of his efforts. He simply said that he had been following Nobunaga's orders.
"It was my intention to carry out everything according to orders. I hope you'll overlook my unskillful performance and the suddenness and secrecy of it all." Thus apologizing, he withdrew.
Ieyasu happened to be with the other generals at Nobunaga's side at this time. Grunting to himself, he watched Hideyoshi depart. From this point on, he realized that there was a formidable man not much older than he who had been born into this period as well. Meanwhile, having abandoned Kanegasaki and now in full retreat, Asakura Kagetsune hurried along, thinking that he would join his forces with those at the main castle at Ichijogadani, and measure his strength against Nobunaga's army once again, at another place. Still on the way, he met the twenty thousand troops that Asakura Yoshikage had sent running to relieve Kanegasaki.
"Now I've done it!" Kagetsune said, regretting that he had followed the counsel of the enemy, but it was too late.
"Why did you leave the castle without a fight?" Yoshikage shouted, enraged, but he was obliged to unite the two armies and return to Ichijogadani.
Nobunaga's men pushed on as far as Kinome Pass. If he could break through that strategic position, the very headquarters of the Asakura clan would be right before him. But an urgent message shocked the invading Oda troops.
A dispatch informed them that Asai Nagamasa of Omi, whose clan had been allied with the Asakura for several generations, had taken his army from north of Lake Biwa and cut off Nobunaga's retreat. Additionally, Sasaki Rokkaku, who had already tasted defeat at the hands of Nobunaga, was acting in concert with the Asai and coming from the mountainous area of Koga. One after another, they had led their armies to strike at Nobunaga's flank.
The enemy was now before and behind the invading army. Perhaps because of this change of events, the morale of the Asakura forces was high, and they were ready to sally from Ichijogadani and mount a furious counterattack.
"We've entered the jaws of death," Nobunaga said. He realized it was as if they had been looking for their own graves in enemy territory. What he suddenly feared was not just that Sasaki Rokkaku and Asai Nagamasa obstructed his retreat; what Nobunaga feared to the very marrow of his bones was the likelihood that the warrior-monks of the Honganji, whose fortress was in this area, would raise a war cry against the invader and unfold the banner opposing him. The weather had suddenly changed, and the invading army was a boat heading into the storm.
But where was an opening large enough for the retreat of ten thousand soldiers? Strategists warn that, by nature, an advance is easy and a retreat difficult. If a general makes one mistake, he may suffer the misfortune of the annihilation of his entire army.
"Please allow me to take charge of the rear guard. Then my lord can take the shortcut through Kuchikidani, unencumbered by too many men, and under cover of night, slip out of this land of death. By dawn the rest of the troops could retreat directly toward the capital," Hideyoshi offered.
With each moment that passed, the danger became greater. That evening, accompanied by a few retainers and a force of only three hundred men, Nobunaga followed the pathless valleys and ravines and rode all night toward Kuchikidani. They were attacked countless times by the warrior-monks of the Ikko sect and local bandits, and for two days and nights they went without food, drink, or sleep. They finally reached Kyoto on the evening of the fourth day, but by that time, many of them were so tired that they were almost invalids. But they were the lucky ones. The one more to be pitied was the man who had taken responsibility for the rear guard on his own and, after the main army had made its escape, stayed behind with a tiny force in the lone fortress of Kanegasaki.
This was Hideyoshi. The other generals, who until now had envied his successes and secredy called him a quibbler and an upstart, now parted from him with heartfelt praise, calling him "the pillar of the Oda clan" and "a true warrior," and bringing firearms, gunpowder, and provisions to his camp as they left. As they laid the supplies down and left, it was as if they were leaving wreaths at a grave.
Then, from dawn until midday on the morning after Nobunaga's night escape, the nine thousand troops under Katsuie, Nobumori, and Shonyu made good their escape. When the Asakura forces saw this and pursued to attack them, Hideyoshi struck their flank and threatened them from behind. And when the Oda force had finally been able to slip away from disaster, Hideyoshi and his troops shut themselves up in the castle at Kanegasaki, vowing, "This is where we'll leave this world."
Demonstrating their will to die fighting, they barred the castle gate tightly, eating what there was to eat, sleeping whenever there was time to sleep, and said their farewells to the world. The commander of the attacking Asakura forces was the brave general Keya Shichizaemon. Rather than injure many of his own men by dashing against troops who were ready to die, he besieged the fortress, cutting off Hideyoshi's retreat.
"Night attack!" When this warning was given in the middle of the second night, all the preparations made beforehand were deployed without the least confusion. Keya’s army rushed out against the enemy moving in the dark and completely routed Hideyoshi's small force, which fled quickly back into the castle.
"The enemy is resigned to die, and is shouting its own death cry! Take this opportunity, and we'll capture the castle by dawn!" Keya ordered. They rushed to the edge of the moat, assembled rafts, and crossed the water. In no time at all, thousands of soldiers took possession of the stone walls.
Then, just as Shichizaemon had vowed, Kanegasaki fell with the coming of the dawn. But what did his forces find? Not one of Hideyoshi's men was in the castie. Their banners were standing. Smoke already curled toward the sky. Horses were neighing. Hideyoshi, however, was not there. The attack the night before had not been an attack at all.
Led by Hideyoshi, his small army had only pretended to flee back into the castle, while in fact it searched like the wind for a way of escape from certain death. By dawn, Hideyoshi's men were already at the base of the mountains that wound their way along the provincial border, making good their escape.
Keya Shichizaemon and his troops did not, of course, watch them go in mute amazement. "Make ready for pursuit!" he ordered. "After them!"
Hideyoshi's troops took the path of retreat deep into the mountains, continuing their flight throughout the night without pausing to eat or drink.
"We're not out of the tiger's den yet!" Hideyoshi warned them. "Don't slacken up. Don't rest. Don't think about thirst. Just keep your will to live!" On they marched to Hideyoshi's admonishments. As expected, Keya began to catch up with them. When he heard the enemy's battle cries behind them, Hideyoshi first ordered a short rest and then spoke to his soldiers.
"Don't be alarmed. Our enemies are fools. They're raising their war cries as they climb up the valley while we're on high ground. We're all tired, but the enemy is chasing after us in anger, and many of them are going to be exhausted. When they're in range, shower them with rocks and stones, and thrust your spears at them."
His men were tired, but they regained their confidence at his reason and clarity.
"Come and get us!" they yelled as they stood ready for the attack. Keya's chastisement of Hideyoshi's troops was returned to him in a miserable defeat. Innumerable corpses piled up beneath the rocks and spears.
"Retreat!" The voices that screamed the order finally grew hoarse in the valleys into which the Asakura retreated.
"Now's our chance! Pull back! Retreat!"
Hideyoshi seemed almost to mimic the enemy, and his men turned and fled toward the southern lowlands. Leading his surviving soldiers, Keya once again went in pursuit. Keya's men were truly implacable, and though the remaining strength of the punitive force had already weakened considerably, the warrior-monks of the Honganji joined the attack, blocking the road as Hideyoshi's men tried to pass through the mountains leading down into Omi. When the men tried to turn from the road, arrows and stones flew from the swamps and forests to the right and left, accompanied by screams of "Don't let them pass!" Even Hideyoshi started to think that his time had come. But now was the moment to summon the will to live and to resist the temptation to succumb.
'Let heaven decide whether our luck is good or bad and whether we live or die! Run down through the marsh to the west. Escape along the mountain streams. Their waters flow into Lake Biwa. Run as fast as the water itself. Your escape from death is speed!" He did not tell them to fight. This was the Hideyoshi who knew so well how to employ men, but even he did not think of ordering his starving troops, who had gone two days and two nights without sleep or rest, to repel an ambush by unknown numbers of warrior-monks. All he wanted was to help every last soldier in his pitiful force to return to the capital. And there was nothing stronger than the will to live.
Under Hideyoshi's orders, the tired and hungry troops struck their way into the marsh in a downhill rush of almost uncanny force. It was a reckless move that could have been called neither strategy nor even self-abandonment, for the warrior-monks hidden in the depths of the forest were like mosquitoes. Still, on they ran, right through the enemy. And this, in fact, opened up a fissure in the enemy ranks, and they were able to rend the carefully laid ambush into pieces. As they ran, order turned to chaos, and all the men scrambled to the south, following the mountain streams.
"We're saved!" They shouted for joy.
The following day they entered Kyoto.
When Nobunaga saw them, he exclaimed, "Thank heaven you've come back alive. You're like gods. You are truly like gods."