Ishiyama War (石山合戦)

The Ishiyama War took place from October 21, 1570 to September 20, 1580 between the Jodo Shinshu (the True Pure Land sect of Buddhism) Hongan-ji Temple force (or Ikko Ikki [Ikko sect's revolt]) and Nobunaga ODA. It is called the Ishiyama War, or 'Ishiyama Gassen' (石山合戦), because the chief priest Kennyo held Ishiyama Hongan-ji Temple during the war.
It is also called 'Ishiyama Senso' (石山戦争) (Both 'Senso' and 'Gassen' mean a war.)

In a broad sense, it can be said that this war lasted for almost 10 years (ended in the 11th year) from raising an army in Ishiyama on October 21, 1570 to Kennyo's leaving of the temple on September 20, 1580, but another theory says the war ended on April 1, 1580 because Hongan-ji Temple sent Nobunaga a written oath of the leave from Osaka to cease their battle action on that day.

It was the military and political decisive war between Hongan-ji Temple, the largest armed religious power in the Sengoku period (period of warring states), and Nobunaga ODA, on his way to 'Tenkahubu' (the unification of Japan), and with the end of the war, Ikko ikki that had occurred in various areas significantly lost its momentum. Also, the war was a remote cause of the Hongan-ji Temple power split in the Edo period.

The expression 'Hongan-ji Temple power' is used here because 'Hongan-ji Temple school' would be confused with the current Jodo Shinshu Hongan-ji school (Nishi Hongan-ji Temple school). It is simply referred to as "Hongan-ji Temple" in the following sentences.


Osaka Ishiyama Hongan-ji Temple was originally the place where the eighth chief priest Rennyo chose as his retreat, called Osaka Gobo (Ishiyama Gobo). In Kinai region (the five capital provinces surrounding the ancient capitals of Nara and Kyoto), Hongan-ji Temple was based in Yamashina, Kyoto and as it became influential due to the Ikko Ikki, Harumoto HOSOKAWA, who feared its military power, attacked and set fire to Yamashina Hongan-ji Temple in collusion with the Nichiren sect in September, 1532 (the Battle of Yamashina Hongan-ji Temple/the Tenbun War/the Tenbun Hokke War). Since Yamashina turned into ruin by this attack, Hongan-ji Temple was forced to place a new base somewhere else. In those days, it had a large power in Kaga Province but it was far from Kyoto and inconvenient for believers. Meanwhile, in Osaka, a battle inside Hongan-ji Temple called the Daisho Ikki had occurred in the previous year of the battle in Yamashina and so there had been distrust of Hongan-ji Temple among believers there.
Then, the 10th chief priest Shonyo set Osaka Gobo, which was close to Kyoto and conveniently located, as the Hongan-ji Temple's new base and renamed it 'Ishiyama Hongan-ji Temple.'
Then, Ishiyama Hongan-ji Temple flourished as a headquarters of Hongan-ji Temple.

Threatened by the development of Ishiyama too, Harumoto HOSOKAWA repeatedly attacked Ishiyama but did not achieve any results at all because Ishiyama was best suited to defense with many hills and rivers and also because Hongan-ji Temple had built up its armaments, learning from Yamashina case. Other powers of that time also feared Ishiyama's military power and avoided a conflict with Hongan-ji Temple by such ways as allying with it. As a result, the Hongan-ji Temple power grew year by year and strengthened a connection with the central authority when the 11th chief priest Kennyo became Monzeki (this title was basically given to the Imperial family and nobility who entered into priesthood and became a chief priest).

Then, in 1568, Nobunaga ODA succeeded in entering Kyoto with Yoshiaki ASHIKAGA. Yoshiaki ASHIKAGA was the brother of Yoshiteru ASHIKAGA, the 13th shogun of the Muromachi bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun), and now it was ensured that Yoshiaki, who entered Kyoto with Nobunaga's military power, would ascend to the throne from the 14th shogun Yoshihide ASHIKAGA. Nobunaga, building on the momentum and using Yoshiaki's authority, conquered almost all of Kinai region right after he entered Kyoto. He demanded that Hongan-ji Temple's branch temples in Kinai region such as Kyogyo-ji Temple pay the war funds and, if they refused it, attacked them. Nobunaga also requested Hongan-ji Temple to pay 5000 kan (unit of volume, approx.3.75 kg) of war funds under the pretext of 'reconstruction expenses of the Kyoto Imperial palace' and to leave Ishiyama, but Kennyo only accepted the claim of the war funds.

From the middle of 1569, Yoshiaki ASHIKAGA more often acted on his own, gradually getting onto bad terms with Nobunaga. In 1570, Nobunaga ordered Kennyo to leave Ishiyama again, but Kennyo firmly refused it. This deteriorated a relationship between Hongan-ji Temple and Nobunaga while Yoshiaki and Hongan-ji Temple got close to each other. In September of this year, Nobunaga carried out a punitive expedition to the Miyoshi clan.
This was conducted nominally in retaliation for the Miyoshi clan's attack on Kyoto on the New Year's Day of the previous year, but Nobunaga's true intention was to threaten Hongan-ji Temple because he himself allegedly said, 'The next target of Miyoshi is Hongan-ji Temple.'
Sakihisa KONOE, who took refuge with Hongan-ji Temple after he was repelled from Kyoto by Yoshiaki, advised Kennyo to help the Miyoshi clan (However, then Sakihisa's anti-Nobunaga attitude came from his intention to defeat Yoshiaki, who was still officially protected by Nobunaga, and later he returned to Kyoto soon after Yoshiaki was expelled by Nobunaga, turning himself into a key figure among Nobunaga's allies.)

Battle of Yodo-gawa River Bank

On October 21, 1570, Kennyo issued a manifesto to his believers, declaring that Nobunaga was a enemy of Buddhist who was trying to destroy Hongan-ji Temple, and suddenly attacked the Oda army that was deployed in Settsu Fukushima to attack the Miyoshi clan. Outside Ishiyama, the Hongan-ji Temple army directly fought with the Oda army at the bank of Yodo-gawa River on 23. This battle ended while the Oda army had the upper hand and the Hongan-ji Temple force returned to Ishiyama and started to hold the temple. Because the Oda army was already surrounded by enemies on all sides, it avoided a battle by asking the Imperial Court to issue an imperial rescript to urge Hongan-ji Temple to lay down its arms while a troops for surveillance was kept in Ishiyama. Therefore, Ishiyama Hongan-ji Temple's first rising actually ended in less than a month.

Refer to 'Battle of Noda-jo Castle and Fukushima-jo Castle' for the details of this war.

Around the same time as raising an army in Ishiyama, another Ikko Ikki started from Nagashima Gansho-ji Temple (Nagashima Ikko Ikki) which exhibited its hostility against Nobunaga by destroying Nobunaga's younger brother Nobuoki ODA's Kokie-jo Castle in Owari Province, and, in June 1571, Nobunaga tried to exterminate Nagashima but failed with a lot of soldiers lost. In this year, Nobunaga's achievements against the Ikko Ikki included only two surrenders of Shimura-jo Castle and Kanagamori-jo Castle in which Ikko ikki forces barricaded, in September. When Nobunaga built his own residence in Kyoto in 1572, Kennyo presented him with a scroll depicting Wan Li Jiang Shan mountain and a Shiro Tenmoku tea bowl in April. In August, Nobunaga issued an order to ban Ikko sect to his vassals which strained the relationship, but peace was made at the mediation of Shingen TAKEDA. In 1573, Nobunaga attacked Nagashima again but in vain, too. In December, he paid a gratuity to Rennyo for the Shiro Temmoku tea bowl.

Although there were no actual fights during this period, 'information warfare' was very active. By around the end of 1572 at latest, Kennyo secretly formed an alliance with Shingen TAKEDA and the Mori clan with the aim of attacking Nobunaga from both east and west sides. Moving with the flow, Yoshiaki ASHIKAGA also urged Shingen to come to Kyoto. As a matter of course, Nobunaga made diplomatic efforts with the Imperial Court and made peace moves with Kenshin UESUGI to check Hongan-ji Temple.
Therefore, until the end of 1573, Ishiyama Hongan-ji Temple and Nobunaga were checking each other although there were no actual battles between them, and their relationship during this period may be described as 'a little more peaceful than the cold war.'

Extermination of Nagashima and Echizen

In 1573, Nobunaga destroyed the Asakura clan and then the Azai clan, and appointed Yoshitsugu MAEBA as Shugodai (deputy military governor) to reign Echizen, where the Asakura clan had had its residential castle. However, Yoshitsugu came to behave rudely and, in February of the following year, he was murdered by the Ikko Ikki force in collusion with local lords including Nagashige TOMITA. Moreover, local lords who had cooperated with the Ikko Ikki were attacked one after another by the Ikki itself and Echizen became a country owned by the Ikko Ikki. This means Nobunaga was deprived of his hard-earned Echizen by the Ikko sect.

Receiving this news, Kennyo firstly dispatched Yorichika SHICHIRI and then appointed Raisho SHIMOTSUMA as Shugodai of Echizen. Thus, peace between Hongan-ji Temple and Nobunaga collapsed and on May 13, Ishiyama Hongan-ji Temple raised an army against the Oda clan again.

Hongan-ji Temple faced off against Nobunaga on three bases, Nagashima, Echizen and Ishiyama, but this system had a weak point in that the military was established at each base almost individually.
Nobunaga took full advantage of it by 'divide and rule.'
In August, Nobunaga, issuing a large-scale mobilization order, besieged Nagashima by land and by sea and blockaded their supply lines to starve the enemy out while making sporadic attacks. The ikki armies locking themselves in Nagashima, Yanagashima and Nakae could not hold out and surrendered their fortresses on November 3. But Nobunaga did not allow the losers to survive and implemented 'negiri' (extermination) by killing all men escaping from Nagashima and by burning out people in Yanagashima and Nakae, which were surrounded by palisades, forcing the leader Sagyo of Gansho-ji Temple to kill himself.

In 1575, Nobunaga defeated Katsuyori TAKEDA, one of the anti-Nobunaga coalition members, in Nagashino and, after giving enough break to soldiers, he issued a mobilization order and set off to Echizen in September 26. Meanwhile in Echizen, Raisho SHIMOTSUMA and other priests dispatched from Hongan-ji Temple imposed a heavy tax and worsened a relationship with the citizens that had participated in the Ikki, resulting in 'ikki inside ikki,' where another Ikki broke out against the priests' tyranny.

Seizing on the confusion inside the Ikko sect, the Oda army immediately conquered Echizen without a single defeat and furthermore pushed into the southern Kaga Province, 'a country owned by peasants.'
In October, Nobunaga came back to Kitanosho and then to Gifu to check Ishiyama.

Receiving the news that two of the three bases of Hongan-ji Temple were smashed and that especially in Nagashima, a thorough negiri was implemented, Kennyo made peace with Nobunaga again by apologizing for his act and also providing a written oath and articles. Unlike in the previous compromise, Nobunaga got significant advantages in this time's peace agreement, saying that it was up to Kennyo's future act whether he would forgive Kennyo.
(In fact, given Nobunaga's military situation where he was still surrounded by Uesugi, Takeda and Mori, the peace was not bad for himself.)

Naval Battles of Kizu-gawa River Estuary

In the spring of 1576, Kennyo raised an army for the third time in cooperation with Shogun Yoshiaki ASHIKAGA, who was taken up by the Mori clan. In May 22, Nobunaga ordered Mitsuhide AKECHI and others to besiege Ishiyama Hongan-ji Temple from three sides. After the besiege, however, Hongan-ji Temple still had ammunition and food supplied from Ronokishi (now Chuo Ward, Osaka City) and Kizu (now Naniwa Ward, Osaka City) by sea. When the Oda army attacked Kizu, the Hongan-ji Temple army kicked back to repel it with over 10,000 of soldiers, invading close to the Tenno-ji Temple fortress. Hearing of this loss, Nobunaga immediately ordered his armies in each district to go to the front but the troops were long coming because of the short notice. Impatient Nobunaga hit out at the Hongan-ji Temple army of 15,000 soldiers surrounding Tenno-ji Temple with only 3,000 soldiers. Right after he broke the encircling enemy and entered the fortress, he joined the troops inside and came out back to enemies. Having thought that the Oda army would choose to hold the fortress, the Hongan-ji Temple army disconcertedly took flight and retreated to Ishiyama Hongan-ji Temple (the Battle of Tenno-ji Temple, 1576). Afterwards, Nobunaga built fortresses on four sides of Hongan-ji Temple and another fortress on the sea side in Sumiyoshi to have the temple under complete siege.

In the economic blockade, Hongan-ji Temple asked Terumoto MORI for aid. Terumoto accepted the request and on August 19, the Mori navy including the Murakami navy appeared on the sea off Osaka with 7-800 ships (around 600, in reality) to carry food and ammunition. In response, the Kuki navy, a Nobunaga army's vassal, blocked the estuary of Kizu-gawa River (Osaka Prefecture) with around 300 ships but the Mori navy, outnumbering the enemy, burnt out ships of the Oda army using flaming arrows and horokudama bombs (A fire smolders inside this weapon and, when it hits a target, fire comes out and suddenly spreads.) and sent Hongan-ji Temple the supply after the complete victory (the first Naval Battle of Kizu-gawa River Estuary). Helplessly, Nobunaga made the soldiers withdraw while strengthening the three-side surveillance.

On March 1 of the following year, the Saika Mikarami shu (local military group) and Sugi no Bo of Negoro-ji Temple in Kii Province, who had cooperated to Hongan-ji Temple, promised a betrayal. In response, Nobunaga made preparations and left Kyoto on March 12, and pushed into Izumi and Kii, the bases of the opponent forces Saikashu. Entering Kii without big loss thanks to divided forces into a mountain-side group and a shore-side group, Nobunaga sieged and attacked the castle of Magoichi SUZUKI, one of the Saikashu on March 30. However, the Saikashu, worried about a war-torn land due to the attack, offered a surrender on the condition that they would give consideration to the attack in Osaka on the following day, and Nobunaga accepted it and withdrew.

After the defeat in Kizu-gawa River, Nobunaga told Yoshitaka KUKI, the leader of the Kuki navy, to build unburnable ships so that Yoshitaka had been developing armored warships with the exterior covered with iron plates. Nobunaga also ordered Kazumasu TAKIGAWA to make a large white ship and then on August 9, 1578, a fleet led by the seven ships, six armored warships and a large white ship, left Kumano for Osaka. To counterattack it, Hongan-ji Temple encircled the fleet with small ships in Tannowa (now Misaki Cho, Osaka Prefecture) and attacked with guns and flaming arrows. In the face of this attack, however, Yoshitaka kicked back and sank a lot of opponent ships with cannons. The Hongan-ji Temple navy, frightened at this attack and hesitant to even approach the fleet, let the Oda fleet easily reach Sakai City on August 30 and blockade the sea route to Ishiyama on the following day.

On December 14, the Mori navy appeared again with around 600 ships in the estuary of Kizu-gawa River. The Oda army led by the Yoshitaka's armored warships counterattacked it while the Mori navy repeated aggressive attacks with flaming arrows and horokudama bombs. However, like in the battle in Tannowa, Yoshitaka used the tactic in which the armored warships approached and shot cannons to the ships which the opponent general probably was aboard to sink them, and finally succeeded in repelling hundreds of Mori's ships to the sea off Kizu (the second Naval Battle of Kizu-gawa River Estuary). Now Hongan-ji Temple was isolated under complete siege.


In November 1578, Murashige ARAKI, who had taken a key role in attacking Ishiyama Hongan-ji Temple in Settsu, rebelled against Nobunaga (the Battle of Arioka-jo Castle) and Nobunaga's strategy against Hongan-ji Temple began to fell out of order seriously. So, Nobunaga tried to move the Imperial Court to mediate a peace agreement between the two parties. The Imperial Court accepted Nobunaga's request and sent an imperial envoy but Hongan-ji Temple virtually refused it, saying that it could not agree without Mori's approval, which led to the collapse of the negotiation. Then, Nobunaga decided to make peace with the Mori clan too, and an imperial envoy was sent. Right after this, however, Nobunaga stopped the peace talks because the Oda navy won a complete victory in the second Naval Battle of Kizu-gawa River Estuary, and he focused on conquering Murashige. Although Murashige's revolt itself lasted for a long period, an impact on the Hongan-ji Temple attack was minimized because the revolt was not echoed by the neighboring Oda lords' rebellions.

With the defeat of the Mori navy in the second Battle of Kizu-gawa River Estuary, Hongan-ji Temple, worried about lack of ammunition and food in the future, finally began to seek for a permanent compromise and, in December 1579, secretly contacted the Imperial Court to ask for the resumption of the previous year's negotiation. Nobunaga, expecting this action, already restarted to ask the Imperial Court for a mediation for the pacification. Then, in March 26, 1580, the Imperial Court sent imperial envoys, Haretoyo KAJUJI and Shigeyasu NIWATA, to Hongan-ji Temple to confirm the will of the Toshiyorishu (senior vassals) and they agreed to proceed with the peace talks. Nobunaga also sent Sakihisa KONOE, who knew how this war had broken out, to look for a compromise with Hongan-ji Temple. From above, it can be said that the actual proposal of the peace talks was made by Hongan-ji Temple although it was Nobunaga who suggested compromise in the form of an imperial order.

On April 1, Hongan-ji Temple submitted a transcription of a written oath to Nobunaga and the third peace was made between them.

On June 1, Kennyo handed over Ishiyama Hongan-ji Temple to his legitimate son and the new Monzeki, Kyonyo, and retreated to Saginomori in Kii Province. However, believers in Saika and Awaji, who fed their family with food supplied to Ishiyama, advised Kyonyo to continue to resist Nobunaga because they were worried that retreating from Ishiyama would force them into poverty which Kyonyo accepted. Therefore, Ishiyama was still occupied by the Kyonyo force resisting Nobunaga even after Kennyo left, and Nobunaga's purpose of acquiring Ishiyama was not achieved.

On August 22, Kennyo sent Nobunaga three envoys to express his appreciation and later Nobunaga replied to it. Due to a worsening situation where Murashige ARAKI lost in the battle of Hanakuma-jo Castle and to Sakihisa KONOE's repeated persuasions around this time, Kyonyo accepted a surrender too, retreating to Saika, and on September 20, Ishiyama was handed over to Nobunaga. Soon after the handing over, Hongan-ji Temple caught fire for three days and nights, and was burnt to ashes. According to "Tamonin Nikki" (Tamonin's Diary), it was rumored that someone from the Kyonyo side set fire to protest the leave while "Shinchokoki" (Biography of Nobunaga ODA) says that this was an accidental fire by the Oda side.


Because Hongan-ji Temple still retained a force that would allow it to continue the battle for about a year at the time of the pacification in April, Nobunaga had to make significant consideration to avoid provocating the military power as much as possible. Meanwhile, the oldest son Kyonyo occupied Ishiyama against the peace agreement after Kennyo's retreat, causing Hongan-ji Temple to split into two schools, Kennyo's and Kyonyo's, and Kennyo was charged with violation of the oath. This internal conflict too ended when Kyonyo left Ishiyama and, right after Nobunaga's death in June 1582, Kennyo and Kyonyo made peace with each other at the mediation of the Imperial Court. However, Kennyo disinherited Kyonyo, the core figure in the internal conflict, and set the third son Junnyo as a legitimate child. When Kennyo died in December 1592, Kyonyo succeeded Hongan-ji Temple under the order from Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI but in the following year, he was forced to retreat and replaced with his younger brother Junnyo because Nyoshun (Kennyo's wife and Kyonyo's mother) asked Hideyoshi to do so according to Kyonyo's will.

Using this split, Ieyasu TOKUGAWA attempted to weaken the Hongan-ji Temple power and had Kyonyo build Higashi Hongan-ji Temple (East Hongan-ji Temple) in 1602, which caused Hongan-ji Temple to split into East and West.

As mentioned in the above introduction, religious ikki in various areas were significantly reduced with the end of the Ishiyama War, which was the largest religious ikki at that time. The second largest ikki, Kaga Ikko Ikki, in which the ikki force fought against Katsuie SHIBATA, continued even after Nobunaga and Kennyo ordered them to cease the battle because the peace agreement included a provision to return the two districts, Enuma and Nomi in Kaga Province to Hongan-ji Temple.
However, on December 23, 1580, less than a year after the end of the Ishiyama War, the warlords of the ikki were killed by Katsuie SHIBATA and then in April 1582, the Ikki in Yoshinodani was put down, resulting in the end of 'the country owned by peasants.'
After the Ishiyama War, therefore, demilitarization of religious powers accelerated, and the religious groups lost their independence and were put under the control of the administration. There is a viewpoint that the end of the Ishiyama War was the beginning of separation of politics and religion in Japan.

[Original Japanese]