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By F.W.Seal

The Ashigaru, Samurai, and their weapons
The Battlefield
The Battle for Kawagoe


The Sengoku Period was perhaps the most dynamic period in the military history of the samurai. Changing technology and ideas combined to minimize ageless tactic and ideals. The samurai himself was ultimately to be minimized, his great presence reduced by ranks of common foot soldiers with gun and spear. The cult of personality remained, and the quest for individuality was barely dampened even as late as 1600, yet samurai warfare itself had changed completely. These changes were to a greater or lesser extent forced upon the men who led these armies into battle. Never before had Japan experienced a time of war so long or complete, with as many as 250 individual daimyô struggling to protect their territory and position. Men like Takeda Shingen, Môri Motonari, and Hôjô Ujiyasu fought dozens of battles to expand their territory, while others, like the Asai and Saito, fought to consolidate their fledgling domains. Enemies existed on the inside as well as the outside. The Shimazu, famous for nearly conquering all of Kyushu, spent the first half of the Sengoku Period divided in civil war and threatened by rebellious - and recalcitrant - vassals. The bulk of this article concerns the sengoku daimyô, that is, the warlords of the early to later 16th Century. The conventions of daimyô - and Toyotomi Hideyoshi - are therefore only treated in passing, or where directly applicable.


The demands of this dangerous time forced the daimyô both to seek ways in which to maximize their military might and to develop an infrastructure that would support the demands of war. The advent of the land survey was perhaps as important any tactical development, and the Sengoku Period would see as many upheavals in the social fabric of Japan as on the battlefield.
One of the ways in which a daimyô created his army was by establishing a more or less clearly defined system of obligation for his retainers. This was not a matter - or problem - unique to the sengoku period. Earlier military figures had also faced the difficulties inherent in sustaining a military force largely drawn from other houses and this is well illustrated by the experiences of Isshiki Noriuji. Assigned as Ashikaga Takauji's military commander (loosely speaking) on Kyushu around 1336, Noriuji was essentially tasked with pressing the Ashikaga cause there. He found it very hard to make progress, however, due to the difficulties in securing the military support of the various families on the island. Like the 16th Century daimyô, Noriuji had only a relatively small personal military force and was so dependant on the manpower of other local figures. Like the daimyô, one of Noriuji's primary problems was in providing rewards for services rendered - an almost universal element of samurai history. This example is oblique at best, but suffice it to say that even prior to the sengoku period the concept of 'central authority' (as in the bakufu) carried less weight then force of personality (as demonstarted by the greater successes on Kyushu achieved by Imagawa Sadayo) and the promise of personal gain. Local rivalries and individual ties were also a salient point of samurai politics.
    The idea of military requirement provides one with as complex a subject as any relating to the 16th Century. This is all the more due to the fact that most daimyô had their own ideas on how to asess requirement and thus raise armies. Rather then endeavor to pick the issue part piece by piece, a few examples will be given. In forming a manpower pool from which to draw on, the Takeda of Kai declared that certain segments of the populace were to be considered gun'yakusho, or military taxpayers. These villages received a tax break in return for providing men for military service. In this case, gun'yakusho villages were excused 60 percent of their income, whereas standard cultivators (so-byakusho) were excused only 45 percent. The large majority of the tax body fell under the cultivator bracket (69 out of 108 registrants), although the value of the military taxpayer's lands tended to be much greater value. A third body, the go-onkyu, or stipendiary, were also wealthy (by the standards of the register this is all drawn from) and were excused one hundred percent of their taxes. At the same time, these registrants appear to have been expected to provide manpower for war at any time, whereas the gun'yakusho occupied a somewhat secondary position in this regard.
    A daimyô's retainers were expected to provide men for war, and this requirement often formed the basis of a daimyo's military organization. The Takeda, to follow the example above, required their retainers to provide a set number of horsemen. We may assume that the Takeda retainers were also expected to bring with them a certain number of footmen per horseman, though this is not mentioned specifically.
    It may be important to note here that the retainers of daimyô such as Takeda Shingen were not exactly 'generals' in the western sense of the word (though they were often called taisho, which does translate as 'general'). These men were generally the heads of lesser families, landed warrior-houses who assumed - or demanded - a sort of autonomy within their own fiefs. The greatest challenge a daimyô might well face was in securing the loyalties of these clans. If the family in question had a long tradition of loyalty to the daimyô in question, then the task was perhaps somewhat easier, though more would be expected of these hereditary retainers. Newer additions could prove more problematic- and occasionally fatal. To deal with the demands of ruling an essentially self-contained kingdom and the intricacies of a growing retainer band, many daimyô houses established a set of house laws with which they sought to define their legal legitimacy. The emphasis was very much on the concept of law, as law to a greater or lesser extent could transcend house and daimyô. The goal, one might say, was to create the notion of the domain, or kokka, in the fullest sense of the word. The Hôjô in particular sought to sidestep the ever-vexing quest for legitimacy by placing the onus on the needs of the domain. In an order dating from 1582, the Hôjô daimyô declared, "In times of war such as the present, all the people of the domain must participate in the war effort. Anyone who fails to follow orders [to report for duty] will be summarily punished. Such [punishment] is not an injustice [commited by] the lord (taito)". As historian Sasaki Junnosuke commented, the inclusion of the final sentence was, in a sense, of a denial of the daimyô's authority - the draft was necessary for the good of the realm, and therefore was not a prerogative of the daimyô. In this way, the daimyô took on the role of guardian, vested with powers intended to serve the collective good of his domain. Needless to say, there was no universal system of recruitment or organization among the various daimyô - methods were adopted and implemented based on local factors, resources, and the strategies of individual daimyô. To present a case in point, the following is an order issued by the Shimazu daimyô in 1578 calling men up for service to fight the Ôtomo…


Fig. 1: Shimazu mobilization order 1578

  "Holders of 1 cho: 2 men, master and follower; the master's service shall be personal;
  holders of 2 cho: 3 men, master and followers;
  holders of 3 cho: 4 men, master and followers;
  holders of 4 cho: 5 men, master and followers;
  holders of 5 cho: 6 men, master and followers;
  holders of 6 cho: 7 men, master and followers;
  holders of 7 cho: 8 men, master and followers;
  holders of 8 cho: 9 men, master and followers;
  holders of 9 cho: 10 men, master and followers;
  holders of 10 cho: 11 men, master and followers;
   "The foregoing is the assessment [based upon that] for one cho of ta (Meaning   more than one cho and less than two). The military service from 10 cho up to 100   cho and 1,000 cho, [shall be performed on the same basis]. It should be under-   stood that armor (gusoku) is assessed at the rate of one set for one cho."
  Note: One cho was equal to about 2.94 acres of land; this was reduced to 2.45   acres in 1594.


One may assume that the circumstances under which a daimyô called his warriors to arms dictated the extent of any given draft. The Hôjô drafts became well known for their all-inclusive nature. An order dated around 1560, a time when Uesugi Kenshin was driving into the Hôjô's northern holdings, says, "All men from 15 to 70 years of age are ordered to come; not even a monkey tamer will be let off… Men to be permitted to remain in the village are those whose ages are above 70 years, or under 15 years, and too young to be used as messengers, but the others are all ordered to come." At the same time, the order also promised rewards for those who came and served diligently. In this we see that not even the Hôjô could expect peasants to take up weapons and fight without some form of compensation - or material inducement - above and beyond the fear of being beheaded. Further, this order was directed at a single district - not the Hôjô domain as whole, so sweeping conclusions should not be drawn from this famous example. Other daimyô are known to have issued blanketing draft orders in times of crisis, including Takeda Katsuyori, who made a call similar to the above in response to the Tokugawa attack on a certain Taketenjin Castle in 1579. It might be noted that Katsuyori had lost a significant number of men in battle at Nagashino in 1575 (no less then 10,000), and that his army had never recovered - forcing him to take what was no doubt an unpopular step in Kai. Not all men drafted were made ashigaru, however. Peasants were often pressed into service as porters, servents, and laborers. These men were rarely armed beyond the issue of a short sword and a jingasa (the conical helmet of the lower-class soldiery) and could be assigned any number of functions, from carrying ammunition to digging ditches. As the war tales show, even from these lowest of positions heroes could sometimes emerge that earned samurai status. But, for the most part, we may safely assume that these men, sometimes known as chugen (a term also applied to the ashigaru at times), had little opportunity for glory in the army. For them, hard work and possibly rough treatment as well was thier lot. Finally, it might be mentioned that the daimyô benefited from the nature of the Japanese agricultural system when it came to raising men for war. Rice is a rather low maintenance crop to grow, and so long as men were available for the planting and harvesting, the old men and women who stayed behind could be expected to tend to the fields in the absence of those called up for service.


Before a daimyô could set out for war, he needed to make a number of preparations, including those of a logistical and administrative nature. Not every man could go, and so it was up to the daimyô to decide who would stay behind and tend the fort in his absence. Also, trusted men would be needed on other fronts to prevent rivals from taking advantage of the daimyô's preoccupation. When Takeda Katsuyori marched out to Nagashino in 1575, for example, he entrusted Kosaka Masanobu with a large part of the Takeda army with the intent that he keep their northern rival, Uesugi Kenshin, in check. Logistics played a major role in sengoku period campaigning. Not only did the men and horses need to be fed while in the field, but also the foot soldiers were often paid in rice for their service. This requirement often imposed a sort of curfew on the duration of a given campaign. Uesugi Kenshin, for example, was forced to give up his attempt to bring down the Hôjô stronghold of Odawara in 1561 for lack of supplies, and the later Hôjô decision to retreat within Odawara's walls before Hideyoshi's might was largely justified on the grounds that the latter would eventually run out of supplies as well. At the same time, Kenshin had been fighting far from home in 1561 - campaigns conducted closer to home could allow for replenishment of stores and consequently longer stays in the field. Kenshin is said to have faced off with Takeda Shingen for well over a month in 1555, sitting as he was close to the borders of Echigo, his home province. Logistical needs in the field were meet with the konidatai, or supply train. Wheeled transport was often unsuited to the sort of terrain movements were conducted over (only a rather small percentage of Japan's topography is flat), so typically the train was composed of human and animal porters under the command of a supply master. Not a particularly auspicious spot in a samurai army, circumstances could nonetheless require the daimyô to assign a trusted general to guard the supplies, which if lost made retreat almost unavoidable. In theory, the vanguard of a large army might be expected to live off the land, relying on the villages in their path to supplement the konidatai. In reality, the peasantry was often one step ahead of invading armies - precious foodstuffs (so vital to a village's well-being) could be secreted, and the peasants themselves might easily go into hiding in the hills or a nearby temple. Nonetheless, it may be telling that in Tokugawa Ieyasu's Field Orders of 1590, which see to the maintenance of order within the Tokugawa contingent on its way to the Siege of Odawara, there is no specific injunction against seizing food from the peasantry.

NHK reproduction of an army encampment, with food being prepared.
The command system within the ranks of a daimyô's army could be somewhat straightforward, with familial relations and senior men providing a second tier of leadership. In particular, family members could provide a trustworthy cadre of sub-commanders, as might be seen in the campaigns of a number of daimyô. At the Siege of Gassan-Toda in 1565, Môri Motonari entrusted sections of his army to his sons Kobayakawa Takakage and Kikkawa Motoharu, as well as his grandson Terumoto. At Nagashino, Katsuyori entrusted the three main elements of his army to Anayama Nobukimi (his brother-in-law), Takeda Nobutoyo (a cousin), and Takeda Nobukado (his uncle). Finally, at the Siege of Minamata in 1581, the Shimazu were divided into camps under the control of Yoshihisa (the daimyô) and his brothers, Iehisa, and Yoshihiro. Other daimyô relied more heavily on senior retainers - or men of ability - and of these, Oda Nobunaga is noteworthy. Not only did he entrust entire campaigns to subordinates, but he rarely made extensive use of his family, though he did entrust his sons Nobutada and Nobuo with separate commands.
These ranking men tended to provide the basis for the organization of the daimyô's army. Subordinate generals maintained their own contingent but could be moved about within the order of battle (that is, from the personal command of a ranking general to another) as needed. Units in the modern sense of the word did not exist at the time, though the personal retainers of a given general might make a name for themselves, as illustrated by those of Tokugawa general Ii Naomasa, whose retainers gained the nickname 'Red Devils'. Again, we see generals acting as 'units; with certain generals being recorded as 'Infantry generals' (ashigaru taisho) and 'gunnery generals/captains' (teppo taisho/monogashira). At the Battle of Nagashino mentioned above, Nobunaga placed a number of his generals in command of entire units of arquebus, though we may safely assume that most generals led elements of a militarily eclectic nature.
At this point, we may turn back to the Shimazu to provide us with an example of preparations for war. While essentially a recruitment document (like the 1578 example given above), it does elaborate on the implements those responding to the call were expected to bring. This order was issued prior to a Shimazu campaign against the Ito clan of Hyûga, and in which a siege was probably expected…


Fig 2: Shimazu recruitment order 1576

  'Assignment [of service] for the expedition:
  Those [holding] one cho of ta: one man per cho, [meaning] two men, master and   follower; providing their own rice for food. Besides, one attendant laborer (tsumefu)   shall be provided by the churches and temples; 3 draught horses shall be assessed upon churches and temples.
  Next, the implements to be carried:
  1 tekabushi (?), height 3 1/2 shaku, width 2 1/2 shaku
  1 log, 6 shaku long;
  1 hoe     1 broad-axe   1 sickle
  1 saw    1 chisel         1 adze
  1 dirt-carrier     1 coil of rope.
  Those [holding more than] 2 cho: one man per cho, [meaning] three men, master and followers; providing their own rice for food. 2 draught horses shall be assessed upon churches and temples, as well as widows.
  The aforesaid implements for work (fu-shin) shall be carried into the camps at the rate stated above for each cho of ta.
  Up to 100 cho and 1,000 cho, the assessments shall be [the proportionate   multiples of that for] one cho of ta. Those who have no land (muashi-shu) shall provide between two of them one attendant laborer (tsumefu) being assessed   [also?] upon churches and temples, and widows; rice for food to be their own   provision. 3 draught horses shall be provided likewise by churches and temples.
  For thirty days during the expedition the rice for food shall be self-support; beyond   thirty days, it will be provided by the authorities (kogi). Those [holding ta] between five and nine tan shall provide their own rice for food; those between one and four tan shall receive rice for food from the authorities.
   Tensho 4 y. 8 m. 1 d. [24 August 1576]'.

The 1560 Hôjô draft order mentioned above also sheds some light on the accoutrements of war the men were expected to bring with them, as well as the possible catch-as-catch-can nature of the early- to mid-sengoku period army… "Men must arrive at the appointed place properly armed with anything they happen to posses, and those who do not posses a bow, a spear, or any sort of regular weapon are to bring even hoes or sickles." Armor seems to have been doled out by the daimyô or their retainers to the foot soldiers depending on the supply available. Men equipped only with simple helmets (jingasa) do not seem to have been that uncommon in the earlier years, and only a few noted daimyô would ever even attempt to equip their armies uniformly (Date Masamune being the most well known example). At the same time, the one area that the daimyô seem to have made sure not to skimp on was heraldry (the Hôjô order also encouraged the peasantry to fashion small paper flags for use on campaign). Discerning who was who on the battlefield was of singular importance, especially given that all indications are that many a battle would ultimately develop into a general melee (as opposed to the image of the artfully orchestrated movement of Romanesque bodies of tightly packed spearmen fostered in the Edo Period).
  Finally, we will look at another Shimazu document from 1591, this one in relation to the pending Invasion of Korea. While the cirumstances that surrounded this mobilization were extraodrinary, one may assume with some confidence that the Shimazu were drawing on existing conventions and experiences when this was drafted.


  Fig 3: Shimazu preparations for the Korean Invasion, 1591

  At the rate of one mounted knight for each 1,020 koku; 95 knights in all.
    Total, 3,230 men of this class, being 34 men with each [knight] (zhin-tai).
  At the rate of one mounted knight for each 510 koku; 24 knights in all.
    Total, 408 men of this class, being 17 men with each [knight].
  At the rate of one mounted knight for each 300 koku; 143 knights in all.
    Total, 1,430 men, being 10 men with each [knight].
  300 squires on foot. 900 laborers (fu-maru), being three laborers with each
  500 landless(mu-ashi) men. 1,000 laborers, being 2 laborers with each [land-
    less man].
  665 carriers of weapons(do-gu).
  2,000 laborers from the lord's domains(kura-iri).
  2,000 boatmen.

    Grand total, 12,433 men.

  Provision for these men for five months, 10,522.9 koku, inclusive of supplies
    for boatmen and their chiefs.
  272 horses. Their provisions 616 koku of beans, being for five months, at the
    rate of 2 sho per day [for each horse].
  Rice and beans together 11,438.9 koku.

  [Shimazu Yukihisa's] 9 mounted knights, with 332 men.
  [Ijuin Tadamune's] 69 mounted knights, with 2,332 men.
    Total, 350 mounted knights;

    Grand total, 15,097 men.

Note: The terms 'knight' and 'squire' are Asakawa's

The Ashigaru, Samurai, and their weapons

For most daimyô, the majority of their army would be comprised of ashigaru, or 'light feet'. These men were typically peasants, drawn from the fields to serve for a limited amount on time on military campaign. Like most of the lower classes of the day, they bore no family name (though they might receive one, and consequently samurai status, for exceptional service) and were rarely equipped with any degree of uniformity in the earlier stages of the sengoku period. The Onin War saw the first large-scale raising of ashigaru, and that experience had certainly been less then promising. Poorly trained and motivated mostly by a desire for loot, the Onin ashigaru were often more of a liability to their lord then an asset. Yet the intense competition of the sengoku period forced the daimyô to rely ever more heavily on the ashigaru, and innovative daimyô found ways to maximize their usefulness. The most obvious developments were in military weaponry.

Uesugi and Takeda spearmen clash at Kawanakajima, 1561
By at least 1550 ashigaru were being trained to fight as long-spearmen, with spears that could range from ten to almost 20 feet long. The idea was to create a body of men who would wield their weapons as a single unit, with mitigating what might have been poor training or even shaky morale. Traditionally the wielding of a spear on the battlefield had been conducted on an individual basis, with a consequently high level of training required to use that weapon effectively. The time required in teaching a man how to thrust a long spear and stay in a basic formation was quite a bit less. Perhaps more importantly, the NUMBER of spearmen that could be sent into battle was very high. Unfortunately, we have no real way of knowing just how well these long spearmen really functioned on the battlefield - most of the contemporary chronicles, often written for a samurai audience, spend precious little time discussing the ashigaru or the specifics of their use. The Zôhyô Monogatari gives some tips on the use of ashigaru in battle, but is probably not of great use in a discussion of the Sengoku Period, written as it was in the mid-17th Century and at a time when all men who bore arms were samurai (of varying rank) and war strategy had become an intellectual pursuit. In addition, the wonderfully detailed battle scrolls depicting the conflicts of the age (such as the 'Nagashino Scroll', pieces of which appear below) rarely depict the large numbers of ashigaru that we know were present at the battles. Those that are shown appear more like dismounted samurai then ashigaru.
    The introduction of the arquebus also substantially increased the military value of the ashigaru. In this case, an adequate shot with a gun could be produced much faster then an archer with comparable ability. The bow, in the hands of a skilled archer, was still a potent weapon but by 1575 the gun had completely overshadowed its ancient cousin in many daimyô armies. The manner in which this new tool of war was employed depended on a number of factors, especially the tactics of the individual daimyô themselves. Daimyô like Oda

Tokugawa general Ii Naomasa's matchlockmen at Nagakute, 1584
Nobunaga, Shimazu Takahisa, and Takeda Shingen were quick to sieze on the arquebus, with Nobunaga in particular capitalizing on its hitting power. Yet perhaps more importantly, the arquebus was employed based on its availability. Oda Nobunaga, for example, could afford to create a large gunnery element for his army and (it could be argued) his use of some form of volley fire might have been a natural extension of this luxury. This is not to say that Nobunaga was not innovative, just that his rivals may not necessarily have been as backward in comparison. They simply did not have the guns needed to do what Nobunaga did. It might therefore be telling that Nobunaga's great enemies, the warriors of the Honganji, also appear to have used massed volley fire - on Nobunaga himself! Like Oda, they held a large number of firearms, having access to the gun factory maintained by the Negoro monastic complex. In other words, availability breeds innovation. The arquebus was fairly common throughout the length of Japan by 1580, but often in short supply in the more remote regions. The great warlord Uesugi Kenshin, for example, is recorded as having a grand total of 360 guns in the forces assessed in the 1575 Uesugi registry (or about 1 gunner in every 19 men covered under the registry); by way of comparison, Nobunaga, with access to the port of Sakai and the gun factory at Kunimoto, deployed 3,000 guns among his 30,000 men at Nagashino that same year - a 1/3 ratio! As a side note, the Uesugi Registry also indicates that the bow, even where the gun was scarce, was by now relegated to a minor role - there is not separate listing for archers in the rolls: they are lumped over what amounts to 'other'. At the same time, one must not be too hasty in assuming that the archer had been eclipsed entirely. A document in the Iriki-in collection regarding the Shimazu preparations for the 1592 Invasion of Korea (the document is dated 1591) states that a total of 1,500 archers are to be deployed, which equalled the number of matchlockmen slated to go.

Oda matchlockmen at Nagashino, 1575

    The Hôjô daimyô of the Kanto were also lacking in the arquebus department for much of their tenure as masters of the Kanto, though they were noted for keeping the spirit of the archer alive and well - even if this was seen as a tad quaint by observers. They did make a spirited effort to amass firearms in their twilight years: at the Siege of Odawara in 1590 it was said they stationed three guns to every firing hole on the walls. Those daimyô who did not posses an abundance of firearms tended to deploy them as skirmishers along with the archers, up front and ready to pick off any inviting targets. When the enemy drew too near for comfort, they retreated 'behind the lines'. The Oda, on the other hand, made the fullest possible use of their guns, both on offense and defense. At Nagashino, Nobunaga deployed his gunners behind a series of palisades made from bamboo poles, structures intended not to stop an enemy charge but to slow it down long enough for the vulnerable gunners to retreat. By 1600, this seems to have become commonplace on the battlefield, as there are references to the practice being used at the Battle of Sekigahara. The gun changed the face of samurai warfare and while it might not have breed a diminution of the offensive spirit (as some authors seem to claim, pointing to the stand-off at Komaki in 1584 as an example), it necessarily reduced the extent to which individualism could play a part in a given battle. Quite a few samurai generals would fall before the gunner's aim and at least one clan, the Shimazu, seems to have trained snipers with the express mission of shooting enemy commanders. By 1600, we find that a certain Ono Tadaaki was punished for engaging in individual combat at the Siege of Ueda, though whether he was punished for his individualism or because he did so without permission is unclear. Certainly, the individual samurai still had a place on the battlefield but the focus had shifted to greater things. As Takeda Shingen is alleged to have observed in 1569 after his son Katsuyori fought a duel with a Hôjô samurai, "Well, that's good, but it is a trifling matter in view of the great undertaking required. This castle will not fall through one single action. [Nobushige], Shiro, and the others who took chances were either killed in action or had a hard time of it."
    Cavalry still had an important place on the battlefield and yet even this veteran symbol of the samurai had been relegated to a supporting role by the time of Sekigahara. Like guns, horses tended to be difficult to acquire in large numbers, and unlike guns required both a high degree of skill to use in a military capacity and were even logistical burdens. Of course, no samurai army was without horses, but their general availability and the wealth of the individual daimyô (or the retainers supplying them) tended to determine the numbers. This is not to say that horses themselves were rare in Japan at the time; rather, horses fit for war could be expensive. The Takeda, famous for their use of cavalry, were lucky enough to have access to the most reknowned horse-breeding region in Japan at the time: the Kiso area of Shinano Province. By comparison, Chosokabe Motochika's army, on economically backward Shikoku Island, was described as having to make use of animals that did not seem fit for work in the fields.

Mounted general and attendants at Nagashino, 1575
Of note to the student of European military history is the altogether different road that the development of cavalry tactics took in Japan. Where the heavy cavalry of figures such as Richard the Lionhearted, for example, had been a battle-winning shock force in the Crusades (see especially his victory at Arsuf in 1191), the samurai tended to focus on the advantages of mobility and position afforded by the horse. The cavalry charge was not an entirely alien concept to the Japanese, but its complexion was much different from the western picture. European cavalry had often been seen as a battering ram, deployed at the right moment to shatter enemy formations, with rider and horse armored both to provide protection from enemy weapons as well as the sheer force of the impact with the enemy lines. The sight of mounted knights thundering down on enemy footmen and the terror it could generate were sometimes decisive in and of themselves. Both the Japanese topography and horses available tended to preclude the development of this sort of warfare amongst the samurai. In fact, the early mounted samurai were rather more akin to the horse archers that Richard's great opponent Saladin employed. By the sengoku period, the samurai had traded his bow for a short spear and his armor had become tailored for fighting on foot as well as in the saddle. The Japanese horseman was often accompanied by a number of men on foot whose task it was to protect him and his vulnerable horse in the thick of the fight. The horses the samurai used in battle were almost never armored (perhaps due to their typically small size and consequently lower load-bearing capacity), and might easily be felled or wounded with a single spear thrust. In addition, and perhaps often over-looked, is the hunger with which notable heads were sought, and the fact that anyone mounted was a lucrative target in this sense. Taking the head of a samurai could bring rewards for an ashigaru, and taking the head of a general was undoubtedly the dream of many a samurai, to say nothing of the ashigaru. Generals who found themselves alone in the midst of the enemy were likely to be swamped with eager enemy warriors and quickly deprived of his head should escape be impossible.
    The Japanese cavalry, then, was an amalgamation of mounted and un-mounted troops, with the former careful not to outpace the latter should close combat be likely. At the same time, the cavalry could be employed to scatter enemy ashigaru whose morale or position was wanting, and the cavalry did its bloodiest work, as cavalry everywhere always did, when it was running down fleeing troops. The mounted samurai could also be used as a mobile reserve, ready to exploit weaknesses or counter enemy moves. Finally, the horseman served a valuable role as scouts and messengers, both of which were considered altogether honorable posts. The scout (o-mono miso) may have also been equipped with a bow (for use in silencing enemy scouts or for keeping them at a distance) from time to time, making them a reminder of an earlier era.
    The last and most unlikely weapon to see service in the sengoku period was the cannon, whose use ranged from the novel to the determined. Acquired from the West, these weapons tended to be largely useless from a tactical point of view, though they could have a powerful psychological effect. The best case in point is the Osaka Winter Campaign, where Tokugawa Ieyasu ordered as many as 100 cannon to fire on the main keep of the castle in the hopes of compelling those inside to come to terms - which they did. A cannon barrage was used once again on the keep in the Osaka Summer Campaign following the Battle of Tennôji. These were not the first times cannon had seen action in battle in Japan, and there is evidence that by 1578 the Môri and Oda were both using them in uncertain numbers, with at least a few examples being found in the Ôtomo arsenal. The Japanese found producing cannon difficult, which contrasts with their skill at matchlock production. The sheer logistical burden of moving these weapons all but relegated them to siege work, and the field mountings we see in this capacity could be rather crude. The records seem to indicate that cannon were mounted on ships later in the 16th Century, perhaps as swivel guns - and this is borne out by European descriptions of the Battle of Okinawadate in 1584, where the Arima are said to have used ship-borne cannon to blast columns of Ryûzôji. However, given the total Korean domination of the naval aspect of the 'Imjim War' (the Koreans mounting cannon on their own 'turtle boats'), we might assume that this was not widespread.
    As an aside, there seems to be some possibility that Ishida Mitsunari had at least a few examples at Sekigahara in 1600, though, had they been there, they did not affect the outcome of the battle - a total defeat for Mitsunari.
    As mentioned above, samurai armor evolved along with the weapons and tactics of the times, having been gradually transformed from the boxy and distinctive O-yoroi of the Heian Period to the more utilitarian, form-fitting Okegawa-dô seen in the sengoku period. Numerous identifiable types of the ubiquitous okegawa-do were to appear after 1500, but most were largely variations on a central theme. Firstly, the 'new breed' of samurai armor was made for close fighting - that is, they did not particularly restrict movement (insofar as spear fighting was concerned) and could be speedily donned. The term Okegawa-dô itself meant 'tub-sided armor', in reference to its design. Whereas older Japanese armor had been supported by the shoulders of the wearer (an acceptable convention when the samurai fought on horseback for the most part), the Okegawa-dô's weight was borne by the hips. Secondly, the Okegawa-dô was cheaper to produce then the older types. The samurai armor of the Heian Period had been almost works of art in and of themselves, requiring quite a bit of time to construct. The Okegawa-dô, which was composed of riveted metal lames, could be mass-produced and without losing any of its design advantages. The largely smooth face of the armor also resisted spear thrusts that contacted at an angle (whereas older types had a tendency to catch spear heads) and afforded some measure of protection from gunfire. Finally, the Okegawa-dô lent itself to quite a bit of customization, especially in decoration, which meant that even a general could wear a suit without appearing 'common'.
    The Mogami-dô type of armor, which was composed of metal lames held together with lacing and popular in the middle part of the sengoku, suffered from a few disadvantages compared to the Okegawa-dô. Firstly, it was more expensive to produce. Secondly, the lacing was vulnerable to the elements, meaning that the armor itself required more maintenance. Nonetheless, the Mogami-dô was reasonably common, and even older designs were still to be seen on the battlefield. For the sake of tradtion, perhaps, it was not uncommon for great generals to be shown wearing O-yoroi, and a few sets may even have made appearances from time to time - though doubtlessly in a ceremonial capacity.

A suit of nuinobe-dô, a style of armor popular on the eve of the Sengoku Period.

    Another type of armor that came into relatively common use in the 16th Century was the tatami-dô, or folding cuirass. Perhaps the cheapest design, it was built by sewing small metal plates to a mail or even quilt lining. Its primary advantage - aside from its cost - was the ease with which it could be folded up and stored when not in use - as its name indicates.
    We can assume that the daimyo made every effort to outfit their troops for war with some form of armor, but in all probability there was not always enough to go around. As noted in an earlier section, the porters and servants were not typically issued suits of armor beyond a simply jingasa. The actual samurai within a given army presumably had their own armor; those ashigaru who didn't happen to have a suit needed to rely on their daimyo or his retainers. Should the supply run short, he probably had to make do as best he could without. The 1591 Shimazu document pertaining to the coming war in Korea noted above contains the interesting line: 'The mounted men might well bear helmet and armor'. We may close this section with extracts from a further Shimazu document concerning the war in Korea (dated January 1597) as it sheds some light on the composition of a late-sengoku army. While the situation in question was unique, similar documents show that the particulars of the preparation for war in Korea were no extraordinary.


The Battlefield

The Sengoku Period was a time that saw many battles, ranging from countless minor skirmishes to the eventual, and vast, battles of Sekigahara (1600) and Tennôji (1615). The battles became bigger - and more strategically significant - as certain daimyo powerhouses emerged to contend for regional and ultimately national control. At the same time, many of these battles were rather straightforward affairs, with a general melee ensuing after a exchange of fire from ranged weapons. Head-on assaults were the norm throughout the period, even after the slaughter at Nagashino, and, as mentioned above, individualism gave way to massed infantry and firearms. Determining actual battlefield strengths - and thus trends within the progression of sengoku warfare - is a difficult task. No strangers to psychological warfare, daimyo often gave out inflated estimations of their own manpower to intimidate foes. The allied Uesugi/Ashikaga army that surrounded Kawagoe in November 1545, for example, put out that they had no less then 80,000 horsemen on the field, doubtlessly to persuade their enemy, the Hôjô, that resistance as pointless. Added to this is a tendency of later authors to take such figures at face value. A recent work even inflated the Uesugi by an additional 20,000, placing the Uesugi juggernaught at a whopping 100,000 men! Needless to say, this is just a bit on the fanciful side, but is not confined to Kawagoe. The ratio of forces at one of the most famous battles in samurai history - Okehazama - is also a bit hazy. At the time, Imagawa Yoshimoto made it known that he was marching on the Oda clan with an army of some 40,000 men, while he probably had somewhere around 20,000. In fact, estimations on the Imagawa's strength run from a 'paltry' 10,000 to 30,000, with Oda Nobunaga, his foe, having between 1,500 and 3,000 men on hand.
    Regardless of conflicting figures, the samurai were leading bigger and more complex armies then ever before, and to facilitate such activities, new systems of command and control had to be developed. One of the most basic expedients was the adoption of the 'sashimono', a small flag worn by individuals and bearing some readily identifiable symbol or color scheme. This allowed samurai and ashigaru to tell friend from foe in the often confused fighting. Ota Gyûichi commented in his description of the Battle of Okehazama, "In all this, enemy and friendly warriors never confused themselves with each other, distinguishing themselves by color."
    Generals and daimyo carried larger banners known as nobori and uma-jirushi with them to indicate their presence on the battlefield and to act as rallying points for their men. As an aside, these banners could in fact be three-dimentional objects such as plumes, fans, or even more elaborate constructions. The downside of the 'general/daimyô' banners was that it also informed the enemy of where the leaders were, and this had disastrous consequences on more then one occasion. To offset this danger, most daimyo had a bodyguard unit of picked men with them on the battlefield whose sole task to was to protect the life and limb of their lord.

A larger view of the Battle of Nagakute shown above; note the use of sashimono, nobori, and uma-jirushi.

    To control the basic movements of their armies, samurai leaders made use of various noise-making devices, such as drums (including the great taiko) and conch shells (horogai). For more specific commands, the daimyo had on hand a messenger corps (tsukaiban). In fact, there seems to have been two types of messenger: the armored and mounted samurai expected to brave enemy action to deliver their messages, and unarmored ashigaru or laborers presumably used to deliver notes 'behind the lines'. The job of the tsuakiban was doubtlessly a dangerous one. They often bore distinctive sashimono and their movements made their function obvious - and an inviting target, as there were no 'gentlemen's rules' concerning them as occasionally protected messangers in earlier European warfare.
    The extent to which formations as we might use the word were employed is difficult to discern. Very elaborate and poetically named (i.e., 'Crane's Wing', 'Fish Scales', ect…) army formations were detailed in the Edo Period (and appear in at least a few sengoku period texts), but the form they actually took on the sengoku battlefield was likely a bit more crude. Certainly, contemporary depictions of warfare in the 16th Century seem to support that assumption - most, such as the Shizugatake and Nagakute screens, do not give any impression of the stylized 'science' of sengoku samurai warfare seemingly created in the Edo Period and recreated in modern movies.
    As mentioned in a preceding section, the sengoku army was often composed of various clans united under the standard of the daimyo, and to a greater or lesser extent were independent commands subject to general orders from the top. In short, the samurai army was very 'feudal'. This is evident in instances where individual generals took it into their own hands to start a battle, such as at Sekigahara, where Ii Naomasa decided to charge first, beating Fukushima Masanori (the man slated to begin the fighting) to the punch. Despite the decline in individual combat (that is, dueling and the like), the samurai ego had been in no way diminished. With this in mind, the Koyo Gunkan's description of the Takeda preparations prior to the 4th Battle of Kawanakajima seems to present an accurate depiction of an army's deployment (despite the otherwise shaky historical reliability of that work)…

It was also decided that twelve commanders - the aides-de-camp group led by Obu Saburo… who was to be in the middle, [Takeda Nobushige] and Anayama [Nobukimi] to the left, and [Naito Masatoyo] and [Morozumi Masakiyo] to the right, with Hara… and [Takeda Nobukado] to the left, and [Takeda] Yoshinobu… and Mochizuki to the right, flanking them, and [Atobe], Imafuku Zenkuro, and [Asari] bringing up the rear - all told 8,000 men…

As stated elsewhere, family members or particularly loyal men often occupied key points in a given battle formation. Provisions might also be made to compensate for poor-quality troops or troops likely to be fighting at a disadvantage (as with the Oda gunners arrayed against the Takeda at Nagashino). The daimyo himself often sat somewhere to the rear where he might effectively control the battle, to whatever extent he could once fighting began. The daimyo's position is often portrayed as the 'command center' of the army, with messengers rushing to and fro relaying specific instructions. In fact, his most important function once the fighting had begun was as a rallying force for his men, and to decide when either his men or the enemy had had enough. His death could - and almost always did - have a disastrous effect on his army. News that the daimyo had been killed acted as an 'all bets are off' signal to his commanders; at Okinawadate, Ryûzôji Takanobu's death triggered the general flight of his army - the same occurred at Okehazama when Imagawa Yoshimoto fell. On the same token, the presence of the daimyo's banners could be a powerful morale boost. At the Osaka Castle Summer Campaign, Toyotomi Hideyori's commanders begged him to join the fray, counting on the powerful sight of the Toyotomi standard to encourage their men. Shimazu Yoshihisa is said to have rallied his faltering army at Mimigawa in 1578 by not moving his standard one step backward in the face of serious danger. The daimyo might also opt to place himself in the thick of the fighting, though this was extremely dangerous and negated any opportunity he might have had to direct the battle in general. This was usually reserved for desperate attacks, and could be the deciding factor in the success of the attempt. For a description of a daimyo in action, we turn to the Battle of Okehazama as recorded by Ota Gyuchi, who may have actually been present at the struggle under Nobunaga…

It was about two in the afternoon when [Nobunaga] directed his attack east. At first about 300 riders made a complete circle around [Imagawa] Yoshimoto as they retreated, but as they fought the assaulting forces two, three times, four, five times, their number gradually decreased. , and in the end only about fifty riders were left. Nobunaga himself dismounted and rushed forward with young warriors, felling enemies forward and backward, as young men in their fury attacked chaotically, blade clashing against blade, swordguard slipping swordguard, sparks flying, fire spewing… many of Nobunaga's horse-tenders and pages were killed.

With the introduction of the face mask (mempo) into general use, daimyô had the option of sending a double of themselves into battle in their place, the illusion bolstered by the flying of the daimyô's personal standard. This tactic, made famous by the Kurosawa movie Kagemusha, was most certainly used but does not appear often in the war tales - perhaps because it had a tendency to work! The use of kagemusha points towards the considerable effect the presence of a daimyô could have on the soldiery, both friendly and enemy. This was all the more so for daimyô with famous names, such as Takeda Shingen, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and Date Masamune. The kagemusha could also act as a stand-in for a daimyô who had died, so as to prevent enemy clans from realizing what had occured. The Koyo Gunkan, for example, records that Takeda Nobukado acted as a double for his brother Shingen when the latter died (most probably from illness) in 1573. This expediant would allow the late daimyô's house to reorganize itself and secure the loyalties of the retainers to the new lord with less fear of enemy attack. For this reason most daimyô deaths were kept secret for as long as possible.
Returning to battle itself, we find that samurai warfare could be a very brutal and hardly glorious affair, as the Koyo Gunkan vividly expresses in reference to the 4th Battle of Kawanakajima…

… friends and foes combined, were thrown into a melee, stabbing and getting stabbed, slashing and getting slashed, some grabbing each other's armored shoulders, grappling and falling down; one would take his enemy's head and rise to his feet, when someone, shouting, "That's my master's head," would skewer him with a spear, and a third, seeing that, would cut that man down. The Kai forces were so taken up with what was happening right in front of them they didn't even know where Lord Shingen was. The same was true of the Echigo forces.

Battles usually ended when one side or the other had had enough and withdrew, often without decisive strategic effect. Even at Kawanakajima, the two sides ended up returning to their respective domains having accomplished little beyond losing a large number of men. Relatively few battles were 'to the death' and many were in fact a series of skirmishes. Some confrontations were pure shows of strength and might simply result in a truce being struck with the opposing forces going home without fighting at all. This was especially the case in the earlier stages of the sengoku period when the various daimyo often fought to consolidate their own territories or for local gain. Forts played an important role in this regard, and certain posts could be taken and lost many times over. In Bizen Province alone, the locations of over 200 sengoku hilltop forts have been identified. Of course, many of these were the most basic of structures and acted as overlooks and screens for more important fortifications, all of which acted as a web of sorts that guarded a daimyo's domain and home castle. Some of the smaller ones may not have even been occupied at all times, as Hôjô records seem to indicate. Nonetheless, the acquisition of forts was often the primary goal of military operations and acted as a measuring stick of success. The Môri's long war against the Amako of Izumo, for example, was essentially a string of fort captures that culminated in the final siege of Gassan-Toda, which fell in January 1566. This tended to make for very long 'wars'. The Shimazu and Ito were actively at odds for decades, while the Hôjô and Satomi fought off and on for nearly sixty years. Most of the Takeda-Uesugi confrontations occurred over control of Shinano's northern reaches, and neither side ever set foot in either Kai or Echigo (the contender's home provinces). Even after the crushing Takeda defeat at Nagashino in 1575, they and the Tokugawa/Oda clans continued to fight until 1582. Needless to say, the term 'war' is misleading when applied to the sengoku period. Terms of hostility might be a better description. The Takeda, Hôjô, and Imagawa were all allies and enemies at various points, with alliances struck for short-term gain and military action taken when doing so appeared advantageous. Joint campaigns where two daimyô acting in cooperation were not at all uncommon, and these could be highly successful, as the Oda/Tokugawa combinations at Anegawa and Nagashino show. Of course, given the egos and inherant self-interest often involved, joint efforts could backfire. If the Koyo Gunkan is to believed, Takeda Shingen was able to defeat a coalition of Shinano daimyô (composed of Suwa Yorishige, Murakami Yoshikiyo, and Ogasawara Nagatada) due to the inability of the allies to agree on strategy. At Mikatagahara, a sizable portion of the Oda contingent sent to assist Tokugawa Ieyasu against Shingen in January 1573 simply fled the field when they saw the difficult situation Ieyasu had gotten them into!
    Sieges were a staple of sengoku warfare - made all the more so after the introduction and spread of the arquebus. Many sengoku battles were fought near forts, and were often the prize involved in these struggles. It is important to note that the average sengoku castle was a far cry from the majestic constructions at Himeji and Osaka. Typically constructed out of wood and reinforced by earth and the surrounding terrain, these castles (stokade might be a somewhat more apt description) relied on the arrival of a relief force and/or the inability of the enemy to sustain a seige for a long period of time. One of the downfalls of the ubiquitous hilltop fort/castle (yamashiro) lay in the fact that its water supply could be tenuous. Cutting the defenders' access to water (be it via an aqueduct or stream) was a sure way to force the fort to capitulate. Forts with ready access to water were still reliant on their stores of food, and once either of these was exhausted, surrender was almost certain (save a desperate sally that drove away the attackers, which Shibata Katsuie and his thirsty men pulled off at Chokoji in 1570). It was therefore up to the overall holder of the fort to respond with a relief force; if he failed to make an appearance and the besiegers showed no sign of leaving, the fort's garrison might simply switch sides - a common occurrence. The Môri switched their allegiance twice (from Ôuchi to Amako and then back again) when faced with attack by a more powerful enemy.
    The one draw to besieging a fort was that it required feeding an army for an extended period of time, and this often precluded determined attempts to bring down large forts by siege in the early sengoku period. Additionally, the longer a daimyo was tied up at one point, the more likely his rivals would take advantage of his preoccupation. The alternative, storming the fort, was a viable option given the generally basic structure of the fortifications in question (as opposed to the vast structures built at the dawn of the Edo Period) but could be bloody - especially after the introduction of firearms. For this reason, most forts were first given the chance to simply surrender before being stormed. Another not uncommon tactic was to tempt some of the defenders to switch sides and betray their companions - perhaps by throwing open the gates. Alternatively, the walls might be mined to bring them down - which the Takeda attempted at Nagashino Castle in 1575 - or a tunnel dug to allow a surprise entrance to the interior of the fort - which the Môri attempted at Shiraga Castle in 1563. In the final years of the sengoku period, cannon were an option, although hardly a common one.
    To sum up the points raised above, we'll look at the events leading up to and surrounding the Battle of Kawagoe as a case study in the way military action, the political situation, and diplomacy were often intertwined. This is also of note given the numerous mentions allotted the Hôjô in previous sections.

In 1541 Hôjô Ujitsuna died and was succeded by his son Ujiyasu. The Hôjô had been steadily expanding into the Kanto region at the expense of the Uesugi and had scored a distinct victory when they took Kawagoe in northern Musashi in 1537. The Hôjô possesion of this fort, which lay astride the Sumida River, signified a great threat to the Uesugi's Musashi holdings and promised to act as a staging point for further Hôjô pushes north. When Ujitsuna died, the two branches of the Uesugi, the Ogigayatsu and Yamaouchi (the Musashi and Kôzuke branches of the clan), determined to work together to take the fort back. Ujiyasu reinforced the bastion and twice the Uesugi efforts to reclaim Kawagoe failed. Not long after this, in 1544, Ujiyasu faced an Imagawa advance towards Sagami Province and discovered that Takeda Shingen had opted to assist Imagawa Yoshimoto, bringing troops of his own onto the field. The armies met at Kitsunebashi in Suruga Province and ended up withdrawing with little fighting, but the news that the Takeda and Imagawa were allied against the Hôjô encouraged the Uesugi. They were suddenly joined by Ashikaha Haruuji. Haruuji, of Koga, had previously been an ally of Ujiyasu but upon hearing of the new threat the Hôjô now faced to their west, switched sides. Thus reinforced, the Uesugi advanced on Kawagoe in

Hôjô Ujiyasu
November and surrounded it, isolating Ujiyasu's brother-in-law Hôjô Tsunashige (also an adopted son of the late Ujitsuna) and his 3,000 men inside. The size of their army must have been formidable, for while the 'offically announced' figure of 80,000 seems very high, the allies had the greatest confidence in their success. Ujiyasu, faced with the threat of the Imagawa/Takeda alliance, could only look on as the siege dragged into 1545. At that time a surprising turn of events came to Ujiyasu's assistance. Takeda Shingen had become involved in a war with Murakami Yoshikiyo of Shinano and decided to secure his own flanks while he faced this enemy. He moved to broker a peace treaty between the Takeda, Imagawa, and Hôjô. In fact, only the Imagawa really benefited from this materially, as Ujiyasu was compelled to return most of the Hôjô lands in Suruga province. The surprise treaty did allow Ujiyasu to turn his full attentions to the situation at Kawagoe, where the defenders were slowly starving. He attempted, with the assistance of the Takeda, to come to some sort of political agreement with the Uesugi, but was rebuffed, with the Uesugi taking his efforts as a sign of his desperation. Ujiyasu therefore brought up 8,000 men to the area and lead an all-out attack on the Uesugi headquarters in the dead of the night, supported by a spirited sally by Tsunashige and the Kawagoe garrison. The Uesugi were completely caught off guard, and in the mayhem Uesugi Tomosada, lord of the Ogigayatsu-Uesugi, was killed. The Uesugi and Ashikaga troops were scattered, and Kawagoe was saved. This battle would stand as one of the greatest - and most decisive - night battles in Japanese history.
    Kawagoe also marked a turning point in the fortunes of the Hôjô and Uesugi clans. By 1551 the Ogigayatsu Uesugi had been effectively destroyed and the Yamaouchi Uesugi driven into exile in Echigo. In 1554 Ashikaga Haruuji was captured by the Hôjô and placed under house arrest; by this time Ujiyasu could claim most of the fertile province of Musashi as his own and was secure in his place as one of Japan's great daimyô.



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Asakawa, Kan'ichi The Documents of Iriki Yale 1929
Berry, Mary Elizabeth Hideyoshi Harvard 1982
Bryant, Anthony Sekigahara Osprey 1995
Hall, John Whitney Government and Local Power in Japan, 500 - 1700 Princeton 1966
Hall, John Whitney (ed.) Japan before Tokugawa Princeton 1981
Hall, John Whitney and Marius B. Jansen Studies in the Institutional History of Early Modern Japan Princeton 1968
Jansen, Marius Warrior Rule in Japan Cambridge 1995
Sato, Hirokai Legends of the Samurai Overlook 1995
Bessatsu Rekishi Tokuhon #85, Sengoku no Kassen Shin Jinbutsu Ôrai 1998
Rekishi Gunzô Shirizu #5, Takeda Shingen Gakken 1999

note: Figures 1-3 drawn from Asakawa.