Asakura Yoshikage (朝倉義景)

Yoshikage ASAKURA was a busho (Japanese military commander) during the Sengoku period (period of warring states) (Japan). A Sengoku daimyo (Japanese territorial lord in the Sengoku period) in Echizen Province. The 11th (last) family head of the Echizen-Asakura clan.

The succession to the position of family head

He was born on October 22, 1533 as the first son of Takakage ASAKURA (the tenth family head), who was a Sengoku daimyo in Echizen Province and the tenth family head of the Asakura clan. His father Takakage was 40 when he was born, and it has been said that he was the only son (however, there are different opinions concerning his birth). His childhood name was Nagayasha.

After his father Takakage died in 1548, he succeeded the family estate to become the 11th family head, and used the name Nobukage. At first, since he was young, Soteki (Norikage) ASAKURA, a great commander of the family, assisted him with government and military affairs until 1555. On July 17, 1552, he was awarded the character '義' by Yoshiteru ASHIKAGA, the 13th shogun of Muromachi bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun), and was renamed Yoshikage using this character. At about this time, he was appointed to Saemon no kami (Captain of the Left Division of Outer Palace Guards).

After Soteki died in 1555, Yoshikage started to attend to government affairs by himself. On December 17, 1559, he was ordained to Jushiinoge (Junior Forth Rank, Lower Grade).

In 1565, Shogun Yoshiteru ASHIKAGA was assassinated by Hisahide MATSUNAGA and others. Yoshikage welcomed Yoshiaki ASHIKAGA, a younger brother of Yoshiteru, to Ichijodani, Echizen Province and protected him, but since he wasn't interested in the operation of advancing to the capital (Kyoto City) as Yoshiaki had hoped, Yoshiaki left Echizen Province for Nobunaga ODA who was building on the momentum of having Mino Province under control. In 1567, Kagetada HORIE, a vassal, through an uprising of Ikko sect followers plotted to raise a rebellion (the view that it was due to Kageakira ASAKURA's slander is incorrect). While fighting with the uprising army invading from Kaga Province, Yoshikage ordered Yoshiie YAMAZAKI and Kagekata UOZUMI to attack the Horie family. Although Kagetada fought frantically, they eventually made peace, and Kagetada withdrew to Noto Province through Kaga Province. In 1568, taking advantage of an internal conflict of Wakasa no kuni Shugo (Provincial Constable of Wakasa Province) who was of the Takeda clan, he placed Motoaki TAKEDA under house arrest in Ichijodani in Echizen Province under the pretense of protecting him, and he also had Wakasa Province under control. Some say that the invasion of Wakasa Province was to support Nobunaga ODA and Nagamasa AZAI who were developing a strategy to go to the capital at the time. However, it is said that Yoshikage gradually abandoned government affairs, left them in the family to Kageakira ASAKURA and Kagetake ASAKURA, and pursued his pleasures.

The siege around Nobunaga

Nobunaga ODA, who went to the capital to serve Yoshiaki ASHIKAGA in 1568, came to conflict with Yoshiaki who tried to recover a government by the shogunate, and Yoshiaki started to frequently send Gonaisho (official documents) to Yoshikage to suppress Nobunaga. On the other hand, Nobunaga issued shogun orders to come to the capital to Yoshikage twice, but Yoshikage refused them. This resulted in Yoshikage being attacked by the allied forces of Nobunaga ODA and Ieyasu TOKUGAWA in May 1570. Due to the attack by the allied forces, his branch castles, Tezutsuyama-jo Castle and Kanagasaki-jo Castle, were destroyed and Ichijodani was also in danger; however, since Nagamasa AZAI betrayed Nobunaga and attacked the Oda army from behind, Nobunaga retreated to Kyoto City. Although the Asakura army chased the Oda army, they were intercepted by Katsumasa IKEDA who led the Oda army, and let powerful military commanders such as Nobunaga get away.

In July 1570, the Oda and Tokugawa allied forces and the Asakura and Azai allied forces clashed with each other in Ane-gawa River (the Battle of Anegawa). However, a supreme commander of the Asakura army was not Yoshikage but family member Kagetake. The Asakura army fought with the Tokugawa army, but Yasumasa SAKAKIBARA attacked the side of the Asakura army causing them to defeat; thus the Battle of Anegawa ended in the defeat of the Asakura army. However, since the Asakura army dispatched troops again three months later (as mentioned later), it's hard to believe that they suffered as much damage as rumored.

In October, while Nobunaga was dispatching troops to Settsu Province to put down Miyoshi Sanninshu (three chief retainers of the Miyoshi clan) and Ishiyama Hongan-ji Temple (the Battle of Noda-jo Castle and Fukushima-jo Castle), Yoshikage departed for the front by himself and invaded Sakamoto in Omi Province in the territory of the Oda clan in cooperation with the Azai army. This drove Nobuharu ODA, a younger brother of Nobunaga, and Yoshinari MORI, a senior vassal of Nobunaga, to be killed in action. However, since Nobunaga got the troops back to Omi, he barricaded himself in Mt. Hiei to confront the Oda army (the Siege of Shiga). Since Nobunaga maneuvered in terms of the Imperial Court, he ended up conciliating with Nobunaga in January, 1571 by an imperial command.

In July, 1571, Yoshikage made peace with Kennyo, and fixed the engagement of his daughter to Kennyo's son, Kyonyo. In August, Yoshikage attacked Yokoyama-jo Castle and Minoura-jo Castle in the territory of the Oda clan in cooperation with Nagamasa AZAI; however, on the contrary, their military depot was threatened by Nobunaga and they retreated.

Since Nobunaga besieged Odani-jo Castle in August 1572, he went there for reinforcement. At this time, since Yoshikage came for reinforcement, Nobunaga didn't attack Odani-jo Castle and there was a continuing standoff between both troops. However, because the Oda army built the forts of Mt. Tora Gozen, Mt. Hasso, and Miyabe, military operations of the Asakura army were substantially limited thereafter. In addition, because of the worsening war situation by not having prevented these forts from being built and stratagems of Nobunaga in accordance with this, many powerful vassals such as Yoshitsugu MAEBA and Nagashige TOMITA of the Asakura family switched to the Nobunaga side.

In November, in the middle of the confusion, Shingen TAKEDA of Kai Province invaded the territory of Oda and Tokugawa aiming to go to the capital. Since Nobunaga was confronting with Yoshikage, he couldn't dispatch the main force toward the Takeda army, and castles of the Oda and Tokugawa allied forces were captured one after another by the Takeda army. When Nobunaga retreated to Gifu in November, Yoshikage made use of it to attack Nobunaga in cooperation with Azai troops, but since the Oda army staying in Mt. Tora Gozen resisted, Yoshikage had to retreat. Since Yoshikage also retreated to Echizen Province in January of the next year due to fatigue of his vassals and snowfall, he received a letter from Shingen strongly blaming him (Ino Monjo [documents that Shingen TAKEDA sent to Yoshikage ASAKURA]).

In May 1573, Shingen TAKEDA, who was an ally to the Asakura family, died of disease on the front line and the Takeda army withdrew to Kai Province. Due to this, Nobunaga could send the main force of the Oda army to the Asakura family.

Ichijodani Enjo (the burning of Ichijodani)

On September 14, 1573, Nobunaga invaded Omi Province leading a large force of 30,000 soldiers.
Yoshikage also tried to depart for the front leading the whole Asakura army in response to this, however, Yoshikage who had been repeating various blunders was already losing trust from vassals, so senior vassals of the Asakura family such as Kageakira ASAKURA and Kagekata UOZUMI refused the order to depart for the front from Yoshikage, saying 'they can't depart for the front because of fatigue.'
Due to this, Yoshikage assembled Yoshiie YAMAZAKI, Munekiyo KAWAI, and others, and departed for the front, leading 20,000 troops.

On September 18, Nobunaga took advantage of a rain storm to attack Fort Otaki, which was a fort of the Asakura family, by himself. By Nobunaga's lightning attack, the Asakura army was convincingly defeated and chased away out of the fort. On September 19, the Fort of Mt. Yono was captured, and it became impossible for Yoshikage to cooperate with Nagamasa. Yoshikage then decided to withdraw to Echizen Province. However, since Nobunaga expected Yoshikage's withdrawal, the Asakura army was chased by the Oda army led by Nobunaga himself. In the Battle of Mt. Tabe, the Asakura army was convincingly defeated and retreated to Yanase.

The debacle at this time is described as follows in Esshu Gunki (the War Chronicle of Esshu Province).
With Yoshikage riding on a horseback, they fussed around as genin (servants who served their masters as slaves) abandoned their master and children abandoned their parents, and they raced to get away.'

Since it had been raining, they were stuck in the valley with their armor covered in mud, and unable to gather on the hill.'
While stuck in the mud, an armored friend was shot and soldiers scattered in all directions as if they were small spiders while on a road the size of 5 or 6-ri (one "ri" is about 3.927 km). There was almost no space to walk because of abandoned horses and armor, etc.'
As always in the military, when you are leading, even a mouse can turn to a tiger, however, when you are losing, even a tiger can turn to a mouse. Therefore, they were frightened even by the shadows of plants and ran away in panic.'

Nobunaga honed in so persistently that the Asakura army was caught up with the Oda army at Tonezaka Slope on their retreat and received critical damage.

Although Yoshikage himself escaped into Hikida-jo Castle, many powerful military commanders such as Tatsuoki SAITO, Yoshiie YAMAZAKI, and Yoshinobu YAMAZAKI died in the battle.

Yoshikage ran away from Hikida-jo Castle to Ichijodani, however, officers and soldiers still escaped one after another and only about ten close advisers such as Kagechika TORII and Kageakira TAKAHASHI were eventually left. On September 21, Yoshikage came back to Ichijodani. However, upon hearing the news of severe damage suffered by the Asakura army, most of the officers and soldiers protecting Ichijodani while Yoshikage had been away had already escaped. Even though Yoshikage ordered them to depart for the front, no one except for Kageakira ASAKURA appeared.

The disastrous situation at that time is described as follows in "Esshu Gunki."

When Yoshikage came into the castle on 15th, the inside of the palace was dead quiet compared to when he had come back to the palace before, and ladies who had beautiful flower-like faces wiped tears with their sleeves feeling as if they were hit by a morning storm, and when he entered the palace that night, there wasn't even a hokai (food container). With stars above, samurai and roshin (main retainers) slept under thick cloud without anybody coming to see them or without receiving letters telling them that world issues would be solved.

On September 22, Yoshikage followed Kageakira's advice to abandon Ichijodani, and he escaped to Toun-ji Temple. On September 23, he requested reinforcement for Heisen-ji Temple. However, since Heisen-ji Temple had known the stratagem of Nobunaga, they didn't respond to Yoshikage's request but on the contrary attacked Toun-ji Temple, with Yoshikage escaping to Kensho-ji Temple on September 25.

On the other hand, Nobunaga's Oda army attacked Ichijodani with Katsuie SHIBATA, a spearhead of the army, on September 24, randomly setting fires. The fires continued for three days and three nights, and the 100-year prosperity of the Asakura family was burned to the ground.

Death

Although Yoshikage escaped to Kensho-ji Temple following advice from Kageakira ASAKURA, his cousin, Kageakira was in secret communication with Nobunaga ODA, betrayed Yoshikage, and attacked Kensho-ji Temple in the early morning of September 26. In the end, Yoshikage committed fierce suicide. He died at age 41.

After his death, the rest of the Asakura family such as Kotoku-in, Koshosho, and Aio-maru were killed by Nobunaga, and the Asakura family completely went to ruin. Nobunaga got Yoshikage's head and exposed it at a prison gate in Kyoto.

It's a true story that Nobunaga applied Hakudami (gold dust on a lacquered surface) on the skull of Yoshikage along with those of Hisamasa AZAI and Nagamasa AZAI and showed them to his vassals; however, the story that they used the skull as a glass and forced them to drink sake is fiction.

Death haiku (Japanese poem)

Continue struggling through my life of 40 years, not finding others or myself, but essentially empty. Since I didn't expect my life to be as it is now, I don't fear losing my life.

Personal profile

Even now, Yoshikage is often evaluated as a foolish busho (Japanese military commander). The reason for this is that he let his opportunity for taking the reins of the government go by, although it was an absolute chance to do so if he had gone to the capital (Kyoto City) when Yoshiaki ASHIKAGA was in exile. In addition, when Nobunaga retreated to Gifu in January 1573, he could have defeated Nobunaga if he had chased him but he let his opportunity to capture Nobunaga go by. However, it is possible to construe the stories that he simply did not have an intension of taking the reins of the government.

In fact, although Yoshiaki ASHIKAGA recommended many major daimyo to come to the capital, they ignored him. In addition, going to the capital and putting Yoshiaki in the position of Shogun means he had to take an aggressive position against the Miyoshi family, and it seems to have been difficult for the then Azai and Asakura allied forces to defeat them and go to the capital at that time.

It seems that he had self-esteem as a head of the noble Asakura family in Echizen Province, and until his death he refused to be in a home territory of Nobunaga who was just a baishin (indirect vassal) from Yoshikage's viewpoint. However, it is understandable since Yoshikage was adopted out from the Rokkaku clan as described later.

It is said that the reason why Yoshikage came back to Echizen Province when Shingen TAKEDA was coming closer to Oda's territory is that he had thought 'even if I can defeat Nobunaga, it will eventually make no difference if Shingen takes over his position.'
However, it was actually just because the economy worsened due to the long-term fight with the Oda army and he had to put priority on domestic affairs.

It is highly evaluated even now that he established the huge cultural area in Ichijodani.

Episodes

It is said that at the conciliation with Nobunaga in 1570, Nobunaga knelt down on the ground to talk to Yoshikage, as follows (Mikawa Monogatari [Tales from Mikawa]).
You, ASAKURA (Yoshikage), please take the reins of the government. I have no more chances.'

Family

Yoshikage married a daughter of Harumoto HOSOKAWA in 1548. However, the she died soon after giving birth to a baby girl.

Yoshikage married a daughter of Taneie KONOE as his second lawful wife. She was a beautiful woman who was described as 'she looks like a willow swinging in the wind standing among sweet peach trees in spring with incomparable beauty.' (Asakura Shimatsuki [War Chronicle on the Rise and Fall of the Asakura family]); however, since she was unable to become pregnant, Yoshikage divorced her and sent her back home.

After the divorce, Yoshikage favored Kozaisho, a concubine, over others. She was a daughter of Fukutomo (副知) KURATANI, a senior vassal of the Asakura clan. Kozaisho gave birth to the first son of Yoshikage, Kumagimi-maru ASAKURA, in 1561. However, Kozaisho soon died from disease, and Kumagimi-maru also died young in 1568. It is said that a series of unfortunate events such as the death of Kumagimi-maru, his legitimate son, and beloved Kozaisho, as well as the estrangement of his vassals from him made Yoshikage no longer interested in politics. It is said that after receiving Koshosho as a concubine, Yoshikage abandoned himself to alcohol and women. The relationship between Yoshikage and Koshosho is described as follows in "Asakura Shimatsuki."
This lady (Koshosho) has a very attractive appearance and makes others feel happy by using flattery without affection, so Yoshikage very much favored her over others.'
She held parties day and night, played Yokobue (the flute) and drums, danced traditional Japanese dance, and made a long night short. Even the first Qin Emperor and Genso during the Tang dynasty were not so haughty.'
It is said that Yoshikage was withdrawing in Ichijodani with his favorite Koshosho even during the Battle of Anegawa.

Associates

Yoshiaki ASHIKAGA
Ujitsuna ROKKAKU
Haruyoshi NIJO

Heresy

From the following facts, it is said that Yoshikage was adopted out from the Rokkaku clan in Omi Province.

A secret arrangement was made between Yoshikage's father (Takakage ASAKURA [the tenth family head]) and the Rokkaku clan.

Many close advisers of Yoshikage have Rokkaku-type family names.

He intervened in an internal conflict of the Rokkaku clan.

He used both Kao (written seal mark) of the Rokkaku clan and the Asakura clan.

He was in a close relationship with Yoshimasa NIKI who was a child of Ujitsuna ROKKAKU and took over as the head of the Niki clan.

Studying and understanding the situation between 'Asakura blood relations of the family (Kageakira ASAKURA as the head) and retainers' and 'the head of a head family who has been adopted out from the Rokkaku clan' has been expected based on stories such as the massive estrangement of Fudai kashin dan (a group of hereditary vassals), sudden decrease of leading ability/centripetal force of the Asakura family head, and conflicts between Kageakira and Yoshikage ASAKURA.