Shingen the Long-Legged
Although Amakasu Sanpei was related to one of Kai's generals, he had spent the past ten years in a lowly position, because of a unique talent—his ability to run at high speed over long distances.
Sanpei was the leader of the Takeda clan's ninja—the men whose job it was to spy on enemy provinces, form clandestine alliances, and spread false rumors.
Sanpei's talent as a swift walker and runner had amazed his friends since his youth. He could climb any mountain and walk twenty to thirty leagues in a single day. But even he could not keep up this speed day after day. When hurrying back from some remote place, he rode wherever the terrain permitted, but when he encountered steep paths, he would rely on his own two strong legs. For this reason he always had horses stationed at essential points along the routes he traveled—often at the huts of hunters and woodsmen.
"Hey, charcoal maker! Old man, are you at home?" Sanpei called as he dismounted in front of a charcoal burner's hut. He was covered with sweat, but no more so than the horse he had been riding.
It was early summer. In the mountains the leaves were still a pale green, while in the lowlands the buzzing of cicadas could already be heard.
He's not here, Sanpei thought. He kicked the broken-down door, which opened immediately. Sanpei led the horse that he planned on leaving here inside the hut and, fastening it to a post, went into the kitchen and helped himself to rice, pickled vegetables, and tea.
As soon as he had filled his stomach, he found ink and a brush, wrote down a message on a scrap of paper, and stuck it to the lid of the rice tub with leftover grains of rice.
This was not the work of foxes and badgers. It was I, Sanpei, who ate these things. I am leaving you my horse to take care of while I am gone. Feed him well and keep him strong until I pass through again.
As Sanpei was leaving, his horse began to kick at the wall, unwilling for his master to leave. His heartless owner, however, did not even look back, but closed the door firmly on the sound of the hooves.
It would be an exaggeration to say that he flew off on his gifted legs, but he did hurry toward the mountainous province of Kai at a speed that made him look nimble indeed. His destination from the start had been Kai's capital city of Kofu. And the speed at which he was traveling suggested that he was carrying a very urgent report.
By the morning of the following day, he had already crossed several mountain ranges and was looking at the waters of the Fuji River right at his feet. The roofs that could be seen between the walls of the gorge were those of the village of Kajikazawa.
He wanted to reach Kofu by afternoon, but since he was making good time, he rested awhile, gazing at the summer sun beating down on the Kai Basin. No matter where I go, and regardless of the inconveniences and disadvantages of a mountain province, there's just no place like home. As he said this to himself, hugging his knees with his arms, he saw a long line of horses loaded with buckets of lacquer being led up the mountain from the foothills. Well, I wonder where they're going, he asked himself.
Amakasu Sanpei stood up and started down the mountain. Halfway down, he met the packhorse train of at least a hundred animals.
The man on the leading horse was an old acquaintance. Sanpei quickly asked him, “That's an awful lot of lacquer, isn't it? Where are you taking it?"
"To Gifu," the man answered, and at Sanpei's dubious expression, he added an explanation. "We finally manufactured the amount of lacquer ordered by the Oda clan the year before last, so I'm just now taking it to Gifu."
"What! To the Oda?" Knitting his brow, Sanpei appeared unable even to smile and wish him a safe trip. "Be very careful. The roads are dangerous."
"I hear that the warrior-monks are fighting too. I wonder how the Oda troops are doing."
"I can't say anything about that until I report to His Lordship."
"Ah, that's right. You're just coming back from there, aren't you? Well, we shouldn't be standing here chatting. I'm off." The packhorse driver and his hundred horses crossed the pass and went off to the west.
Sanpei watched them go, thinking that a mountain province is, after all, exactly that. News of the rest of the world is always slow to arrive there, and even if our troops are strong and the generals clever, we are at a serious disadvantage. He felt the weight of his responsibilities even more, and ran down to the foothills with the speed of a swallow. Sanpei picked up another horse in the village of Kajikazawa and, with a stroke of the whip, galloped toward Kofu.
In the hot and humid Kai Basin stood Takeda Shingen's heavily fortified castle. Faces that were rarely seen except in times of weighty problems and war councils were now entering the castle gates one after another, so that even the guards at the entrance knew something was afoot. Inside the castle, which was wrapped in the green of new leaves, it was silent except for the occasional buzzing of the summer's first cicadas.
Since morning, not one of the many generals who had come to the castle had left. It was at this point that Sanpei hurried toward the gate. Dismounting beyond the moat, he ran across the bridge on foot, grasping the horse's reins in his hand.
"Who's there?" The eyes and spearheads of the guards glittered from a corner of the iron gate. Sanpei tied the horse to a tree.
"It's me," he replied, showing his face to the soldiers, and walked briskly into the castle. He often passed back and forth through the castle gate, so while there may have been those who did not know exactly who he was, there was not a soldier at the gate who did not know his face and the nature of his work.
There was a Buddhist temple inside the castle, called the Bishamondo after the guardian god of the north; it served as Shingen's meditation room, as a place to discuss governmental affairs, and from time to time as a place for war councils. Shingen was now standing on the veranda of the temple. His body seemed to flutter in the breeze that blew into the hall from the rocks and streams in the garden. Over his armor, he wore the red robe of a high priest, which looked as if it were made from the flaming flowers of the scarlet tree-peonies.
He was of average height, with a solidly built, muscular frame. There was clearly something unusual about the man, but while those who had never met him would remark on how intimidating he must be, he was not really so difficult to approach. On the contrary, he was a rather kindly man. Just looking at him, one could feel that he possessed natural composure and dignity, while his shaggy beard gave his face a certain unyielding quality. These features, however, were common to the men of the mountain province of Kai.
One after another, the generals rose from their seats and took their leave. They spoke a few parting words and bowed to their lord standing on the veranda. The war council had lasted since morning. And Shingen had worn his armor under his scarlet robe, exactly as he did on the battlefield. He seemed to be a little tired from the heat and the lengthy discussions. Moments after the council had ended, he had gone out to the veranda. The generals had departed, no one else was in attendance, and there was nothing in the Bishamondo other than the gilded walls that glittered in the wind and the peaceful buzzing of the cicadas.
This summer? Shingen seemed to be looking into the distance at the silhouette of the mountains that encircled his province. From his very first battle, when he was fifteen, his career had been filled with events that had occurred from summer through fall. In a mountain province, there was nothing else to do in the winter but confine oneself indoors and maintain one's strength. Naturally, when the spring and summer came, Shingen's blood would rise, and he would turn toward the outside world, saying, "Well, let’s go out and fight." Not only Shingen, but all the samurai of Kai shared this attitude. Even the farmers and townspeople would suddenly feel that the time had come with the summer sun.
This year Shingen would turn fifty, and he felt a keen regret—an impatience with expectations of his life. I've fought too much just for the sake of fighting, he thought. I imagine that over in Echigo, Uesugi Kenshin is realizing the same thing.
When he thought about his worthy opponent of many years, Shingen could not suppress a bitter smile for the man's sake. This same bitter smile, however, gnawed bitterly in his breast when he thought of those fifty years. How much longer did he have to live?
Kai was snowed in for a third of the entire year. And although it could be argued that the center of the world was far away and the procurement of the latest weapons difficult, he felt that he had wasted the years of his prime, fighting with Kenshin in Echigo.
The sun was strong, and the shade beneath the leaves deep.
For many years Shingen had assumed he was the best warrior in eastern Japan. Certainly the efficiency of his troops and of his province's economy and administration were respected by the whole country.
Nevertheless, Kai had been placed to one side. From about the previous year, when Nobunaga had gone to Kyoto, Shingen had thought about the position of Kai and looked at himself again with a new perspective. The Takeda clan had set its sights too low.
Shingen did not want to spend his life shaving off bits of surrounding provinces. When Nobunaga and Ieyasu were sniffling children in the arms of their wet nurses, Shingen already dreamed of uniting the country under his iron rule. He felt that this mountain province was only a temporary abode, and his ambition was such that he had even let this thought slip to envoys from the capital. And certainly his never-ending battles with neighboring Echigo were really only the first of many battles to come. But most of the battles he had fought had been against Uesugi Kenshin, and had consumed a large portion of his provincial resources and taken much time.
But by the time he realized this, the Takeda clan had already been left behind by Nobunaga and Ieyasu. He had always considered Nobunaga "the little brat from Owari" and Ieyasu "the kid from Okazaki."
When I think about it now, I've committed a great blunder, he admitted bitterly. When he had only been involved in battles, he had hardly ever regretted anything; but nowadays, when he reviewed his diplomatic policies, he realized that he had bungled the job. Why hadn't he headed for the southeast when the Imagawa clan was destroyed? And, having taken a hostage from Ieyasu's clan, why had he watched silently as Ieyasu expanded his territory into Suruga and Totomi?
An even bigger error was in becoming Nobunaga's kinsman by marriage at the latter's request. Thus Nobunaga had fought with his neighbors to the west and south and, at a single stroke, stepped toward the center of the field. In the meantime, the hostage from teyasu had watched for his opportunity and escaped, and Ieyasu and Nobunaga were bound by an alliance. Even now it became clear to everyone how effective this had been diplomatically.
But I'm not going to be taken in by their scheming forever. I'm going to teach them that I am Takeda Shingen of Kai. The hostage from Ieyasu has escaped. This severs my connection with Ieyasu. What other excuse do I need?
He had said as much at the military council today. Having heard that Nobunaga was camped at Nagashima and apparently locked in a hard battle, this astute warrior saw his opportunity.
Amakasu Sanpei asked one of Shingen's close attendants to announce his return. As a summons was not forthcoming, however, he made his request once again.
"I wonder if His Lordship was informed of my arrival. Please tell him once more."
"A conference has just now been concluded, and he seems a little tired. Wait a little longer," the attendant replied.
Sanpei pressed further, "My business is urgent precisely because of that conference I'm sorry, but I must insist that you inform him immediately."
It appeared that this time the message was passed on to Shingen, and Sanpei was summoned. One of the guards accompanied him as far as the central gate of the Bishamondo. From there, he was handed over to a guard of the inner citadel and led to Shingen.
Shingen was seated on a camp stool on the veranda of the Bishamondo. The young leaves of a large-trunked maple rustled speckles of light over him.
"What news do you bring, Sanpei?" Shingen asked.
"First of all, the information I sent you before has completely changed. So, thinking that something untoward might happen, I rushed here as fast as I could."
"What! The situation at Nagashima has changed? How is that?"
"The Oda had temporarily abandoned Gifu, and it seemed as though they were making a combined effort in their attack on Nagashima. But as soon as Nobunaga arrived on the battlefield, he ordered a general withdrawal. His troops paid dearly for it, but they receded like the tide."
"They retreated. And then?"
"The retreat seemed to have been unexpected, even by his own troops. His men were saying among themselves that they couldn't understand what was on his mind, and not a few of them were very confused."
This man is shrewd! Shingen thought, clicking his tongue and chewing his lip. I had a plan to bring Ieyasu out in the open and destroy him while Nobunaga was trapped by the warrior-monks in Nagashina. But it has all come to naught, and I have to be careful now, he said to himself. Then, turning toward the interior of the temple, he suddenly called out, "Nobufusa! Nobufusa!" He quickly gave the command to inform his generals that the decisions taken at the war council that day to depart for the front was being canceled forthwith.
Baba Nobufusa, his senior retainer, had no time to ask the reason why. Still more, the generals who had just now left were going to be confused, thinking there was no better opportunity than the present for smashing the Tokugawa clan. But Shingen knew, with a sudden illumination, that he had missed his opportunity, and that he was not going to be able to hold on to his former plan. Rather, he must quickly seek the next countermeasure and the next opportunity.
After taking off his armor, he met with Sanpei again. Sending his retainers away Shingen listened carefully to the detailed reports of the situation in Gifu, Ise, Okazaki, and Hamamatsu. Later one of Sanpei's doubts was dispelled by Shingen.
“On my way here I noticed the transport of a large amount of lacquer for the Oda clan, who are allies of the Tokugawa. Why are you sending lacquer to the Oda?"
“A promise is a promise. Also, the Oda might be careless, and as the packhorses first had to pass through the Tokugawa domain, it was a good opportunity to survey routes to Mikawa, but that has turned out to be useless, too. Well, not useless. The time may come again tomorrow." Muttering self-scorn, he unburdened himself somewhere in solitude.
The departure of Kai's efficient and powerful army was postponed, and the men spent the summer in idleness. But when autumn came around, rumors could once again be heard in the western mountains and the eastern hills.
On a fine autumn day Shingen rode to the banks of the Fuefuki River. With only a few attendants accompanying him, his spirited figure, bathed in the autumn sun, seemed to be taking pride in the perfect administration of his own province. His senses were attuned to the dawning of a new age. Now is the time! he thought.
The plaque of the temple gate read "Kentokuzan." This was the temple where Kaisen lived, the man who had taught Shingen the secrets of Zen. Shingen acknowledged the greetings of the monks and went into the garden. Because he really was just dropping by for a short visit, he purposely did not enter the main temple.
Close by was a small teahouse with only two rooms. Water flowed from a spring; yellow ginkgo leaves had fallen into the water pipe running through the fragrant moss of a rock garden.
"Your Reverence, I've come to say good-bye."
Kaisen nodded at Shingen's words. "You're finally resolved, then?"
"I've been pretty patient, waiting for this opportunity to arrive, and I think this autumn the tide has somehow turned in my favor."
"I've heard that the Oda are going to make an offensive westward," Kaisen said. "Nobunaga seems to be gathering together an army even bigger than last year's, in order to destroy Mount Hiei."
"All things come to those who wait," Shingen replied. "I've even received a number of letters from the shogun saying that if I struck the Oda from the rear, the Asai and Asakura would rise up at the same time and, with the added help from Mount Hiei and Nagashima, just by kicking Ieyasu, I will advance quickly on the capital. But no matter what I do, Gifu is going to continue to be dangerous. I don't want to repeat Imagawa Yoshimoto's performance, so I've watched for the right opportunity. My intention is to catch Gifu off guard, to streak through Mikawa, Totomi, Owari, and Mino like a clap of thunder, and then go on to the capital. If I can do that, I think I will greet the New Year in Kyoto. I hope Your Reverence will remain in good health."
"If that's the way it's going to be," Kaisen said gloomily.
Shingen consulted Kaisen on almost every matter, from military to governmental matters, and trusted him implicitly. He was very alert to the expression he now perceived. “Your Reverence seems to have some misgivings about my plan."
Kaisen looked up. "There's no reason for me to disapprove of it. It is, after all, your life’s ambition. What disturbs me are the petty schemes of Shogun Yoshiaki. The incessant secret letters urging you to the capital don't go to you alone. I've heard that they've also been received by Lord Kenshin. It also appears that he had called upon Lord Mori Motonari to mobilize, although he has since died."
"I'm not unaware of that. But regardless of everything else, I must go to Kyoto to realize the great plans I have for this country."
"Alas, even I have not been able to resign myself to the fact that a man of your ability should live out his life in Kai," Kaisen said. "I think you're going to have many troubles on the way, but the troops under your command have never been defeated. Just remember that your body is the only thing that is truly your own, so use your natural term of existence wisely."
Just then, the monk who had gone to scoop water from a nearby spring suddenly threw down the wooden bucket and, yelling unintelligibly, went running through the trees. Something like the sound of a running deer echoed through the garden. The monk who had been chasing after the fleeing footsteps finally dashed back to the teahouse.
"Get some men quickly! A suspicious-looking character has just escaped," he announced.
There was no reason for anyone suspicious to be inside the temple, and when Kaisen questioned the monk, the full story came out.
"I hadn't spoken to Your Reverence about it yet, but the fact is that a man knocked at the gate late last night. He was dressed in the robe of a wandering monk, so we let him stay overnight. If he had been someone we didn't know, we would not have allowed him in, of course. But we recognized him as Watanabe Tenzo, who was formerly in His Lordship's ninja corps and who used to visit this temple quite often with His Lordship's retainers. Thinking there was no problem, we let him stay."
"Wait a minute," Kaisen said. "Isn't that all the more suspicious? A member of the ninja corps disappears in an enemy province for a number of years and is never heard of again. Suddenly he's knocking at the gate in the middle of the night—dressed as a monk, mind you—and asks to stay overnight. Why didn't you question him a little more carefully?"
"Certainly we were at fault, my lord. But he told us that he had been arrested while spying on the Oda. He claimed to have spent several years in jail, but he had managed to escape, and had come back to Kai in disguise. He certainly seemed to be telling the truth. Then this morning he said that he was going to Kofu to meet with Amakasu Sanpei, the leader of his corps. We were completely taken in, but just now, when I was fetching water from the spring, I saw the bastard beneath the window of the tearoom, stuck to it like a lizard."
What! He was listening in on my conversation with His Lordship?"
“When he heard my footsteps and turned in my direction, he looked quite surprised. Then he walked quickly toward the rear garden, so I called out to him , ordering him to stop. He ignored me and picked up his pace. Then, when I yelled out 'Spy!' he turned and glared at me."
"Has he gotten away?"
“I screamed at him at the top of my lungs, but all of His Lordship's retainers were eating their noonday meal. I couldn't find anyone around, and unfortunately he was too fast for me."
Shingen had not even glanced at the monk and had listened silently, but when his eyes met Kaisen's glance, he spoke quietly. "Amakasu Sanpei is among my attendants today. Let's have him run the man down. Call him here."
Sanpei prostrated himself in the garden and, looking up at Shingen, who was still seated in the teahouse, asked what his mission might be.
"A number of years ago, there was a man under your command by the name of Watanabe Tenzo, I believe."
Sanpei thought for a moment, then said, "I remember. He was born in Hachisuka in Owari. His uncle Koroku had had a gun made, but Tenzo stole it and fled here. He presented the gun to you and was given a stipend for a number of years."
"I recollect that business about the gun, but it seems that a man from Owari will always be just exactly that—a man from Owari—and now he's working for the Oda clan. Run the man down and cut off his head."
"Run him down?"
" Go after you've heard the details from that monk. You're going to have to chase after him quickly so he won't get away."
West from Nirasaki, a narrow path follows the foot of the mountains around Komagatake and Senjo, crossing over Takato in Ina.
The sound of a human voice was rare in these mountains. The lone monk stopped and turned around, but was there nothing but an echo, so he hurried on up the road over the mountain pass.
"Heeyyy! You there, monk!" The second time the voice was closer. And, as it was clearly calling him, the monk stopped for a moment, holding the brim of his hat. Very soon another man climbed up to him, breathing hard. Approaching the monk, the man shot him an ironic smile.
"This is a surprise, Tenzo. When did you come to Kai?"
The monk looked surprised, but he quickly recovered his composure and let out a snicker under his hat.
"Sanpei! I was wondering who it was. Well, it's been quite a while. You look to be in good health, as usual."
Irony was returned with irony. Both were men whose duties had taken them into enemy territory as spies. Without this kind of audacity and composure they would not have been equal to their work.
"That's quite a compliment." Sanpei seemed very relaxed, too. To have made a fuss because an enemy spy had been found on his home ground would have been the act of a heedless, common man. But looking at it through the eyes of a thief, he knew that there were thieves about even in broad daylight, and so it was hardly a surprise.
"Two nights ago you stopped at the Eirin Temple, and yesterday you eavesdropped on secret conversation between Abbot Kaisen and Lord Shingen. When you were discovered by one of the monks, you ran away as fast as you could go. This is correct, isn't it, Tenzo?"
"Yes, were you there too?"
"That's the only thing I didn't know."
"For you, that's a piece of bad luck."
Tenzo feigned indifference, as though this were someone else's affair. "I had thought that Amakasu Sanpei, the Takeda ninja, was still spying on the Oda in Ise or Gifu, but you had already come back. You should be praised, Sanpei, you're always so fast."
"Don't waste your breath. You can flatter me as much as you like, but now that I've found you, I can't let you return alive. Did you intend to cross the border as one of the living?"
"I don't have the least intention of dying. But, Sanpei, the shadow of death is drifting across your face. Surely you didn't come chasing after me because you wanted to die."
"I came to take your head, on orders from my lord. And upon my life, I'll have it."
The instant Sanpei drew his long sword, Watanabe Tenzo stood ready with his staff. There was some distance between the two men. As they continued to glare at each other, their breathing quickened and their faces took on the pallor of people on the verge of death. Then something must have crossed Sanpei's mind, for he sheathed his sword.
"Tenzo, put down your staff."
"Why? Are you scared?"
"No, I'm not scared, but isn't it a fact that we both have the same duties? It's all right for a man to die for his mission, but to kill each other in this fight would serve no purpose at all. Why don't you take off that monk's robe and give it to me? If you will, I'll take it back and say I killed you."
Ninja had a particular faith among themselves that was not common to other warriors. It was a different view of life naturally brought about by the singularity of their duties. To the ordinary samurai, there could be no higher duty than to die for his lord. The ninja, however, thought quite differently. They held life dear. They had to return alive, regardless of the shame or hardships they had to suffer. For even if a man was able to enter into enemy territory and collect some valuable information, it did no good at all if he did not return to his home province alive. Therefore, if a ninja died in enemy territory, it was a dog's death, no matter how glorious the circumstances might have been. No matter how steeped in the samurai code the individual may have been, if his death was of no value to his lord, it was a dog's death. Thus, even though the ninja might be called a depraved samurai whose sole aim was to keep himself alive, it was his mission and responsibility to do so at all costs.
Both men held to these principles, right to the marrow of their bones. So, when Sanpei had reasoned with his opponent that killing each other would do no one any good and had sheathed his blade, Tenzo immediately drew back his weapon as well.
“I didn't like the idea of becoming your opponent and gambling with my head. If we can finish this thing with a monk's robe, let's do it." He ripped off a piece of the robe he was wearing and threw it at Sanpei's feet. Sanpei picked it up.
“This is enough. If I bring this back as proof, and announce that I've cut down Watanabe Tenzo, the matter will be over and done with. His Lordship certainly won't demand to see the head of a mere ninja."
“This works well for the both of us. Well, then, Sanpei, I'll be going. I'd like to say that I’ll see you again, but I'd better pray that it'll never happen, because I know it would be the last time.” With these parting words, Watanabe Tenzo walked away quickly, as though he had suddenly become afraid of his opponent and was happy to have saved his own skin.
As Tenzo began to descend the slope of the pass, Sanpei picked up the gun and fuse that he had previously hidden in a clump of grass, and followed him.
The report of the gun could be heard echoing through the mountains. Immediately, Sanpei tossed the weapon aside and leaped down the slope like a deer, intending to deal the finishing blow to his fallen enemy.
Watanabe Tenzo had fallen on his back in a clump of weeds on the road. But at the moment Sanpei stood over him and aimed the tip of his sword at his breast, Tenzo grabbed Sanpei's legs and pulled them from under him, bringing him to the ground with terrific force.
Now Tenzo's wild nature came to the fore. While Sanpei lay stunned, he jumped up like a wolf, seized a nearby rock in both hands, and smashed it down onto Sanpei's face. The impact made a sound like a splitting pomegranate.
Then Tenzo was gone.
* * *
Hideyoshi, now commander of Yokoyama Castle, had spent the summer in the cool mountains of northern Omi. Soldiers say that for a fighting man, inactivity is more trying than the battlefield. Discipline cannot be neglected for a day. Hideyoshi's troops had been at rest for one hundred days.
At the beginning of the Ninth Month, however, the command was given to depart for the front, and the gates of Yokoyama Castle were opened. From the time they left the castle until they arrived at the shore of Lake Biwa, the soldiers had no idea where they were going to fight.
There were three large ships berthed by the lake. Built over the New Year, they smelled of newly sawed timber. It was not until after the horses and men had clattered aboard that the soldiers were told that their destination would be either the Honganji or Mount Hiei.
Having crossed the autumnal face of the great lake and arriving at Sakamoto on the opposite shore, Hideyoshi's men were amazed to see that the army under Nobunaga and his generals had arrived ahead of them. In the foothills of Mount Hiei, the banners of the Oda stood as far as the eye could see.
After Nobunaga had lifted the siege of Mount Hiei and withdrawn to Gifu the previous winter, he had ordered the building of large troop ships capable of crossing the lake at a moment's notice. Now the soldiers finally understood his forethought, and the words he had spoken when he abandoned the attack on Nagashima and returned to Gifu.
The flames of rebellion that burned all over the country were merely reflections of the real fire—the root of the evil—whose source was Mount Hiei. Nobunaga was again laying siege to the mountain with a great army. His face showed new resolve, and he spoke loudly enough to be heard from the curtained enclosure of his headquarters all the way to the barracks, almost as if he were addressing the enemy.
"What! You're saying that you won't use fire because the flames might spread to the monasteries? What is war, anyway? Every one of you is a general, and you don't understand even that? How did you ever get this far?"
This much could be heard from the outside. Inside the enclosure, Nobunaga was sitting on his camp stool, surrounded by his veteran generals, all of whom were hanging their heads. Nobunaga was exactly like a father lecturing his children. Even if he was their lord, this sort of criticism was going too far. At least this was what the bitter expression on the faces of the generals indicated as they looked up, daring to look Nobunaga directly in the eye.
What were they fighting for, indeed? If they thought or worried about it, they risked their reputations by rebuking Nobunaga.
"You're being heartless, my lord. It's not that we don't understand, but when you've given us an outrageous order—to burn down Mount Hiei, a place respected for hundreds of years as holy ground dedicated to the peace and preservation of the country—as your retainers—and precisely because we are your retainers—there is all the more reason why we should not obey you," Sakuma Nobumori said.
A do-or-die expression showed clearly on Nobumori's face. If he had not been prepared to die on the spot, he could not have said this to Nobunaga. Especially the way Nobunaga was looking now. Although it was always rather difficult to speak frankly to their lord, today Nobunaga resembled a demon wielding a fiery sword.
"Silence! Silence!" Nobunaga roared, quieting Takei Sekian and Akechi Mitsuhide, who were about to back up Nobumori. "Have you not felt indignation when you watched the insurrections and this disgraceful state of affairs? Monks transgress the Laws of the Buddha, stir up the common people, store wealth and weapons, and spread rumors; under the guise of religion, they are nothing more than self-serving agitators."
"We do not object to punishing these excesses. But it is impossible, in a single day, to reform a religion in which all men fervently believe and which has been granted special authority," Nobumori argued.
"What good is that kind of common sense?" Nobunaga exploded. "It's because we've had eight hundred years of common sense that no one has been able to change the situation, despite people's lamenting over the church's corruption and degeneracy. Even His Majesty the Emperor Shirakawa said that there were three things over which he had no control: dice, the waters of the Kamo River, and the warrior-monks of Mount Hiei. What role in the peace and preservation of the country did this mountain play during the years of civil war? Has it given peace of mind or strength to the common people?" Nobunaga suddenly waved his right hand to the side. "For hundreds of years, when disasters have occurred, the monks have done nothing more than protect their own privileges. With the money donated by the credulous masses, they build stone walls and gates that would befit a fortress and inside they hoard guns and spears. Worse, the monks flaunt their vows openly by eating meat and indulging in sexual intercourse. Let's not even speak of the decadence of Buddhist scholarship. Where is the sin in burning down something like that?"
Nobumori replied, "Everything you say is true, but we must stop you, my lord. We are not going to leave this place until we do, even if it costs us our lives." The three men simultaneously prostrated themselves and remained motionless before Nobunaga.
Mount Hiei was the headquarters of the Tendai sect; the Honganji was the principle stronghold of the Ikko sect. Each called the other "the other sect" in matters of doctrine, and it was only in their opposition to Nobunaga that they were united. If Nobunaga had not had a moment's rest, it was because of the schemes of the men dressed in monks' robes, living on Mount Hiei. They had plotted with the Asai and Asakura clans and the shogun, helped enemies defeated by Nobunaga, sent secret calls for assistance as far as Echigo and Kai, and even incited peasant revolts in Owari.
The three generals knew that without the destruction of this reputedly impregnable Buddhist fortress, the Oda army would be stymied at every turn, and Nobunaga would be unable to realize his dreams.
As soon as Nobunaga had set up his camp, he had given an incredible order: "Attack the mountain and burn everything to the ground, starting with the shrines, the Great Hall, the monasteries, and all the sutras and the holy relics." This was extreme enough, but he went on, "Let no one escape if they're wearing monkish robes. Make no distinction between the wise and the foolish, aristocratic or common monks. Show no mercy to women and children. Even if someone is dressed as a layman, if he's been hiding on the mountain and runs away because of the fire, you may look upon him as part of the present plague as well. Massacre the entire lot, and burn the mountain until there's not a sign of human life left in the ruins!"
Even the Rakasa, the bloodthirsty cannibal demons of the Buddhist hells, could not have done such a thing. The generals who heard his order were unnerved.
"Has he gone mad?" Takei Sekian muttered under his breath, but well within earshot of the other generals. However, only Sakuma Nobumori, Takei Sekian, and Akechi Mitsuhide dared to express their opinions in front of Nobunaga.
Before going to confront their lord, they had pledged, "We may be forced to commit seppuku one after another for going against His Lordship's orders, but we cannot let him carry out this reckless fire attack."
Nobunaga could simply besiege and take Mount Hiei. But where was the need for such slaughter with an attack by fire? If they dared to commit this outrage, they feared that popular sentiment would turn against the Oda. Nobunaga's enemies would rejoice, and they would use the attack as propaganda to blacken his name at every opportunity. He would only be bringing upon himself the kind of evil reputation that men had feared and avoided for hundreds of years.
"We are not going to fight a battle that will bring you to ruin," the three generals said, speaking for all the men present. Their voices quaked with their tearful devotion.
Nobunaga, however, was determined, and he gave no indication that he would even hink twice about the three men's words. On the contrary, he became even more determined. "You may retire. Don't say anything more," he told them. "If you refuse to obey the order, I'll give it to someone else. And if the other generals and soldiers won't follow ne, then I'll do it myself, alone!"
"Why is it necessary to commit such an atrocity? I would think that a true general could bring about the fall of Mount Hiei without shedding a single drop of blood," Nobumori asked again.
"No more 'common sense'! There speaks eight hundred years of 'common sense.' If we don't burn out the roots of the old, the buds of the new will never sprout. You keep talking about this one mountain, but I'm not concerned only with Mount Hiei; burning it down is going to save the church everywhere else. If by slaughtering all the men, women, and children on Mount Hiei, I can open the eyes of the imprudent in other provinces, then I will have done some good. The hottest and deepest hells are nothing to my eyes and ears. Who else can do this but me? I have heaven's mandate to do it."
The three men, who believed that they, more than anyone else, knew Nobunaga's genius and methods, were appalled by this statement. Was their lord possessed by demons?
Takei Sekian pleaded, "No, my lord. No matter what orders you give us, as your retainers we can do nothing but try to dissuade you. You cannot burn a place sacred since ancient times—"
"That's enough! Shut up! In my heart I've received an Imperial decree to burn the place down. I'm giving you the order for this massacre because the mercy of the Founder, Saint Dengyo, is in my heart. Don't you understand?"
"No, my lord."
"If you don't understand, leave! Just don't get in the way."
"I'm going to object until you kill me yourself."
"You're already damned! Get out!"
"Why should I leave? Rather than watch my lord's insanity and the destruction of his clan in my lifetime, I can try to obstruct this with my own death. Look back to the many examples given by antiquity. Not one man who made a hellfire of Buddhist temples and shrines, or who massacred priests, has come to a good end."
"I'm different. I'm not going into battle for my own sake. In this battle, my role will be to destroy ancient evils and build a new world. I don't know whether this is the command of the gods, the people, or the times; all I know is that I'm going to obey the orders I've received. You are all timid, and your view is limited. Your cries are the sorrows of small-minded people. The profit and loss you talk about only concerns me as an individual. If my turning Mount Hiei into an inferno protects countless provinces and saves countless lives, then it will be a great achievement."
Sekian did not desist. "The people are going to see this as the work of demons. They will rejoice if you show a little humanity. Be too severe, and they'll never accept you— even if you are motivated by great love."
“If we hold back because of popular opinion, we won't be able to act at all. The heroes of antiquity feared popular opinion and left this evil to plague future generations. But I’m going to show you how to extirpate it once and for all. If I'm going to do it, I must do it completely. If I don't, there's no point in taking up arms and marching toward the center of the field."
There are intervals even between the raging waves. Nobunaga's voice softened a little. His three retainers hung their heads, their protests almost exhausted.
Hideyoshi had just arrived, having crossed the lake at about noon. The debate was in progress when he approached headquarters, so he had waited outside. Now he stuck his through a split in the curtain and apologized for intruding.
Abruptly they all looked in his direction. Nobunaga's expression was like a raging fire, while the faces of his three generals, who were resolved to die, were frozen, as if covered with a coating of ice.
"I've just arrived by ship," Hideyoshi said genially. "Lake Biwa in the fall is absolutely beautiful; places like Chikubu Island are covered with red leaves. Somehow it didn't feel as though I was heading for the battlefield at all, and I even made up some poor poetry on board. Maybe I'll read it to you after the battle."
Stepping inside, Hideyoshi chattered away about whatever came into his head. Nowhere on his face was there anything like the solemnity that had transfixed lord and retainers just moments ago. He seemed to have no worries at all.
"What's going on?" Hideyoshi asked, looking back and forth at Nobunaga and his retainers, who were sunk in silence. His words were like a clear spring breeze. "Ah. I heard what you were talking about when I was outside just now. Is that why you're silent? Thinking so much of their lord, the retainers have resolved to admonish him and die; knowing the innermost feelings of his retainers, the lord is not so violent that he would cut them down. Yes, I can see there's a problem. You could say there are good and bad points to both sides."
Nobunaga turned his head sharply. "Hideyoshi, you've come at a good time. If you've heard almost everything, you must understand what's in my heart and what these three men are saying as well,"
"I do understand, my lord."
"Would you obey the order? Do you think it is wrong?"
"I don't think anything at all. No, wait. This order is based on the recommendation I wrote up and gave to you some time ago, I believe."
"What! When did you make such a proposal?"
"It must have slipped your mind, my lord. I believe it was sometime in spring." Then he turned to the three generals and said, "But listen, it nearly made me weep as I stood out there unseen and heard your loyal admonitions. Yours is the sincerity of true retainers. In a word, however, I think what each one of you is most worried about is that if we do attack Mount Hiei with fire, it is certain that the country will turn against His Lordship."
"That's it exactly! If we commit this atrocity," Sekian said, "both the samurai and the people will feel resentment. Our enemies will take advantage of it to blacken His Lordship's name forever."
"But it was I who recommended that when we attacked Mount Hiei, we should go all the way, so it was not His Lordship's idea. Now, if that's so, I would be the one to bear whatever curse or bad reputation that might be forthcoming."
"How presumptuous!" Nobumori cried out. "Why would the public blame someone like you? Whatever the Oda army does reflects on its commander-in-chief."
"Of course. But won't all of you help me out? Couldn't we proclaim to the world that the four of us were so eager to carry out His Lordship's orders that we went too far? It's said that the greater part of loyalty is delivering one's admonition even if one is forced to die for it. But if it were left to me, I would say that even delivering an admonition and dying is not enough proof of the loyalty of a truly devoted retainer. It's my view that while we are alive, we should answer, in our lord's place, for the bad reputation, abuse, persecution, stumbling, and anything else. Do you agree?"
Nobunaga listened silently, without signaling agreement or disagreement.
Sekian was the first to respond to Hideyoshi's suggestion. "Hideyoshi, I agree with you." He looked around at Mitsuhide and Nobumori; they also made no objections. And they swore to attack Mount Hiei with fire, and to let it be known that their actions had exceeded Nobunaga's orders.
"A masterful plan." In a voice that betrayed admiration, Sekian congratulated Hideyoshi for his resourcefulness, but Nobunaga did not look the least bit pleased. On the contrary, without saying a word, his expression clearly showed that this was something that hardly warranted so much praise.
The same opinion could be clearly seen on Mitsuhide's face. In his heart, Mitsuhide understood what Hideyoshi had suggested, but he also felt that the merit of the truth of their own loyal remonstrances had been snatched away by the newcomer's words. He was jealous. An intelligent man, however, he was quickly ashamed of his selfishness. He censured himself, reflecting that someone who was ready to die in objecting to his lord's command should avoid shallow thinking, even for a moment.
The three generals were satisfied with Hideyoshi's plan, but Nobunaga acted as though he were not committing himself to it, and certainly he did not seem to have changed his original aim. One after another, Nobunaga summoned his commanders.
"Tonight, at the sound of the conch, we will make an all-out attack on the mountain!" He himself gave the same severe orders that he had given previously to the three generals. It appeared that there were many officers there who, along with Sekian, Mitsuhide, and Nobumori, were against the attack by fire, but since those three had already accepted the order, they all did the same and left without a dissenting word.
Messengers from headquarters galloped to the outlying units and carried the orders to the front-line troops at the foot of the mountain.
The evening clouds settled in brilliant colors behind Shimeigadake as the sun set. Broad shafts of red light ran across the lake like rainbows, as waves rose on the surface.
"Look!" Nobunaga stood at the top of the hill and spoke to those around him, gazing up at the clouds around Mount Hiei. "Heaven is with us! A strong wind has come up. We'll have the best weather conditions for a fire attack!"
As he spoke, the cold evening wind rustled through their clothes and gradually freshened. There were only five or six retainers with him, and at that moment a man peeked inside the billowing curtain as though he were looking for someone.
Sekian shouted at the man, "What's your business? His Lordship is over here."
The samurai quickly approached and knelt down. "No, I have nothing to report to His Lordship. Is General Hideyoshi here?"
When Hideyoshi emerged from the group, the messenger told him, "A man dressed as a priest has just now come into camp. He says he is Watanabe Tenzo, one of your retainers, and that he has just returned from Kai. His report seemed to be extremely urgent, so I hurried here."
Although Nobunaga was a little distance from Hideyoshi, he suddenly turned toward him.
"Hideyoshi, the man who just returned from Kai is one of your retainers?"
"I think you know him, too, my lord. Watanabe Tenzo, Hikoemon's nephew."
"Tenzo? Well, let's hear if he has any news," Nobunaga said. "Call him here. I'd like to listen to his report, too."
Tenzo knelt in front of Hideyoshi and Nobunaga and told them about the conversation he had eavesdropped on at the Eirin Temple.
Nobunaga grunted. This was a dangerous threat to his rear. As with his attack on Mount Hiei the year before, the danger had not decreased in the least. On the contrary, both his position in regard to the Takeda and the conditions in the area of Nagashima had worsened. In the campaign the previous year, however, the large armies of the Asai and Asakura had joined forces and retreated to Mount Hiei. This time he had not given his enemies such an opportunity, so the forces that faced him now were not so powerful. It was just that there was always danger from the rear.
"I imagine the Takeda clan has already dispatched messages to Mount Hiei, so the monks are certain to be optimistic about our army turning tail and heading for home," Nobunaga said, dismissing Tenzo. "This is help from heaven," he said, laughing with satisfaction. "Which is going to be faster—the Takeda army as it crosses the mountains of Kai and presses in on Owari and Mino, or the Oda army when it returns after having destroyed Mount Hiei and conquered the capital and Settsu? It would seem as though they're giving us extra incentive for competition, and increasing our desperate conviction. Everybody get back to your posts."
Nobunaga disappeared into the enclosure. Smoke rose from the cooking fires of the huge camp that encircled the foothills of Mount Hiei. As night fell, the wind freshened. The temple bell that was usually heard from the Mii Temple was silent.
The sound of the conch shell reverberated on top of the hill, and the soldiers raised their battle cries in reply. The carnage lasted from that evening until dawn of the following day. The soldiers of the Oda army broke through the barricades the warrior-monks had built across the passes on the way to the summit.
Black smoke filled the valley, and flames howled through the mountain. Looking up from the foothills, one could see huge pillars of fire everywhere on Mount Hiei. Even the lake glowed a fiery red. The location of the biggest fire showed that the main temple was burning, as well as the seven shrines, the great lecture hall, the bell tower, the library, the monasteries, the treasure pagoda, the great pagoda, and all the minor temples. By dawn the following day not one temple was left standing.
The generals, who encouraged one another each time they looked up at the fearful sight, would recall Nobunaga's claim of having heaven's mandate and the blessing of Saint Dengyo, and urge themselves on. The apparent conviction of the generals inspired the troops. Making their way through the flames and black smoke, the attacking soldiers followed Nobunaga's orders to the letter. Eight thousand warrior-monks perished in an echo of the most horrible Buddhist hell. The monks who crawled through the valleys, hid in caves, or climbed trees trying to get away were hunted down and killed, like insects on rice plants.
Around midnight, Nobunaga himself climbed the mountain to see what his iron will had wrought. The monks of Mount Hiei had miscalculated. Even though they had been surrounded by Nobunaga's army, they had made light of the situation, thinking the show of force a pretentious bluff. They had vowed to wait until the Oda started to retreat, and then they had planned to pursue and destroy them. And they had sat by idly, their minds at ease because they received frequent letters of encouragement and reassurance from nearby Kyoto—which meant, of course, from the shogun.
For all the warrior-monks and their followers across the country, Mount Hiei had been the focal point of the opposition to Nobunaga. But the man who had incessantly supplied provisions and weapons to Mount Hiei and who had done his best to stir up the monks and urge them to fight was Shogun Yoshiaki.
"Shingen is coming!" So had promised a dispatch from Kai to the shogun. Yoshiaki had held on to this great expectation and had passed it on to Mount Hiei.
The warrior-monks, naturally enough, had faith that the army from Kai would attack Nobunaga's rear. When that happened, Nobunaga would have to retreat just as he had the year before at Nagashima. And there was one more thing. Because they had lived undisturbed for the past eight hundred years, the monks had underestimated the changes that had overtaken the country in recent years.
The mountain was transformed into an earthly hell in only half a night. A little too late, at about midnight, when flames were leaping everywhere, representatives of Mount Hiei, consumed with fear and panic, came to Nobunaga's camp to sue for peace.
"We'll give him whatever amount of money he wants, and we will agree to whatever conditions he sets."
Nobunaga only flashed a smile and spoke to those around him, as though he were throwing bait to a hawk. "There's no need to give them an answer. Just cut them down on the spot." Once more messengers came from the priests, and this time begged before Nobunaga himself. Nobunaga turned his head and had the monks killed.
Dawn broke. Mount Hiei was covered in the lingering smoke, ashes, and black withered trees, while everywhere corpses were frozen in the poses death had found them in.
Among these there must have been men of profound learning and wisdom, and the young monks of the future, thought Mitsuhide, who had been in the vanguard of the slaughter the night before. He stood this morning in the thin smoke, covering his face and feeling a pain in his breast.
That same morning, Mitsuhide had received Nobunaga's gracious command. "I'm putting you in charge of the district of Shiga. From now on you'll live in Sakamoto Castle, down in the foothills."
Two days later, Nobunaga descended the mountain and entered Kyoto. Black smoke still rose from Mount Hiei. Apparently quite a number of warrior-monks had fled to Kyoto to escape the carnage, and these men now spoke of him as though he were the incarnation of evil.
“The man's a living demon king!"
"A messenger from hell!"
"He's an atrocious destroyer!"
The citizens of Kyoto were given a vivid description of Mount Hiei and the pitiful situation that night. Now, when they heard that Nobunaga was withdrawing his troops and heading down the mountain, they were shaken. The rumors flew:
"It's Kyoto's turn!"
"The shogun's palace will never be able to withstand a fire attack."
People shut their doors even though it was daytime, packed their belongings, and prepared to flee. Nobunaga's soldiers, however, bivouacked on the bank of the Kamo River and were forbidden to enter the city. The man who forbade this was the demon king who had commanded the attack on Mount Hiei. Accompanied by a small number of generals, he now went inside a temple. After taking off his armor and helmet and eating a hot meal, he changed into an elegant court kimono and headdress and went out.
He rode a dappled horse with a gorgeous saddle. His generals remained in their armor and helmets. With these fourteen or fifteen men, he rode nonchalantly through the streets. The demon king was extraordinarily at peace, and smiled kindly at the people. The citizens spilled out onto the roadside and prostrated themselves as Nobunaga passed. Nothing was going to happen. They began to cheer, as relief spread across the city like a wave.
Suddenly the single report of a gun rang out from the cheering crowds. The bullet grazed Nobunaga, but he acted as though nothing had happened, and only turned to look in the direction of the report. The generals around him naturally leaped off their horses and rushed to capture the villain, but the city people, even more than the generals, were taken in a fit of anger, yelling out in a rage: "Get him!" The perpetrator, who had thought that the people of Kyoto would be on his side, had miscalculated, and now had no place to hide. He was a warrior-monk, said to be their very bravest, and he continued to pour abuse on Nobunaga even though he was pinned down.
"You're an enemy of the Buddha! The king of the demons!"
Nobunaga's expression did not change in the least. He rode to the Imperial Palace as planned, and dismounted. After washing his hands, he stepped calmly up to the gate of the palace and knelt.
"The raging fires of the night before last must have given Your Majesty some surprise. I hope you will forgive me for having caused you anxiety."
He knelt this way for a long time so that one might have thought that he felt this apology deep within his heart, but presently he looked up at the palace's new gate and walls, and then looked around in a satisfied way at the generals to his right and left.
It is unlawful to leave one's occupation.
Those who spread rumors or false reports will be put to death immediately.
Everything should remain as it has been.
By order of Oda Nobunaga, Chief Magistrate
When these three edicts had been posted throughout the city, Nobunaga returned to Gifu. He left without meeting with the shogun, who for some time had been busy deepening his moats, buying guns, and steeling himself for a fire attack. Heaving a sigh of relief, the residents of the shogun's palace were, however, filled with unease as they watched Nobunaga go.