Azai Nagamasa (浅井長政)

Nagamasa AZAI (浅井 長政, formerly written as 淺井 長政) was a busho (Japanese military commander during the Sengoku Period [period of warring states] in Japan, at the end of the Muromachi Period) and warring lord in Omi Province. He was the fourth and last family head of the Azai family, and its third daimyo (Japanese feudal lord). He was the grandfather of Hideyori TOYOTOMI and Iemitsu TOKUGAWA. He had many great-grandchildren including Ietsuna TOKUGAWA, Tsunayoshi TOKUGAWA, and Emperor Meisho.

It had been established that 'AZAI' was the correct reading of '浅井', his family name and also the name of the territory, rather than the reading 'ASAI', however, some recent studies claim that 'ASAI' is actually the correct reading (see Keiichi MIYAJIMA's 'Asaishisandai' or 'The Three Generations of the Asai Family').


Nagamasa was given the juryomei (honorary title) Bizen-no-kuni. His official court rank was Junii Chunagon (Junior Second Rank Vice-councilor of State), posthumously conferred in 1632 as he was the maternal grandfather of Iemitsu TOKUGAWA.

He contributed to the Azai clan's position as the warring lords of Kitaomi, and his alliance with Nobunaga ODA led to the heyday of the Azai clan, but he later disagreed with Nobunaga, lost the ensuing battle with the Oda army and finally his suicide marked the end of the Azai clan.

Succession as head of the clan

Nagamasa was born in 1545 as the legitimate son of Hisamasa AZAI in the castle town of Kannonji-jo Castle in Minami Omi (now Azuchi-cho, Shiga Prefecture), a castle of the daimyo of the Rokkaku clan. His childhood name was Saruyashamaru.

At that time the Azai clan was beaten in a battle with the Rokkaku clan, and lost the territory that Sukemasa AZAI, the first family head, had gained, and as a consequence began to serve the Rokkaku clan. It is said that because of this, Nagamasa was taken hostage to ensure a ceasefire with the Rokkaku clan, along with his mother Lady Ono. His father Hisamasa focused on diplomacy with the Rokkaku clan and was successful in retaining Kitaomi. Many vassals protested against Hisamasa's passive policies, and even busho who had performed brilliantly during the time of the previous generation were not treated well under the pretext of the need for generational change.

When Nagamasa celebrated his attainment of manhood at the age of 15, the Rokkaku clan made him use the surname Katamasa, which contained one of the characters from the name of Yoshikata ROKKAKU, the head of the Rokkaku clan, in order to demonstrate the fact that the Azai clan were vassals of the Rokkaku clan. In addition, the following January he was forced to get married to a daughter of Sadatake HIRAI, a vassal of the Rokkaku clan.

Feeling unsatisfied about this situation the vassals forced Hisamasa to retire in favor of Nagamasa, who was believed to have great knowledge and courage, by exiling Hisamasa to Chikubushima Island. It could be said that Nagamasa succeeded his father by force. To make clear his wish to break with the Rokkaku clan, Nagamasa returned the name Katamasa and the daughter of Sadatake HIRAI to the Rokkaku clan and reassumed the name Shinkuro.

The growth of the Azai family and the decline of the Rokkaku family

In 1560 Nagamasa (Shinkuro) led an army aged only 15 and fought admirably against the Rokkaku army in the Battle of Norada. It is said that senior vassals such as Kiyotsuna AKAO, Tsunachika KAIHO, and Naotsune ENDO became enamoured with him because of this.

He appears to have won the Battle of Norada because he had been preparing for battle since Hisamasa's exile, whereas the Rokkaku clan were forced to form an army quickly. In addition, as the Asakura clan were not requested to provide reinforcements it is suggested that Nagamasa himself had the initiative for the battle, rather than either Hisamasa or the vassals who had close relations with Asakura. Following the battle he governed with greater independence from the Asakura clan.

Since the name Nagamasa appears on documents dated June 20, 1561 (old lunar calendar), the following year, it seems he reassumed the name Nagamasa before this date.

In 1563, Katatoyo GOTO, the head of the vassals of the Rokkaku clan, was assassinated. This is known as the Kannonji family feud. Many abandoned Rokkaku to serve Azai because of the feud, and it was also a period in which the failure of the Rokkaku clan's attempts at reform became apparent.

In the same year, the Rokkaku clan called up their military forces while Nagamasa was away on an expedition to Mino Province, but Nagamasa turned his army back to fight with them and defeated them. Tsunachika KAIHO was asked to protect the shingari (rearmost part of the army during its retreat) and he fought brilliantly despite having only 500 soldiers.

Though these two incidents allowed the Azai clan to expand their territory, a situation of deadlock continued after that due to a ceasefire agreement made with the Rokkaku clan.

Alliance with Nobunaga ODA

Sometime in the 1560s Nobunaga ODA dispatched the envoy Mitsuharu FUWA to propose forming an alliance with Nagamasa to break the deadlock with the Saito clan. Though the terms of the agreement were favorable for the Azai side, there were arguments both for and against it among the vassals of the Azai family, and it is claimed that Naotsune ENDO, a senior vassal, was also against it. The biggest problem was the historic hatred between Yoshikage ASAKURA, his sworn ally, and Nobunaga. At Aburasaka path in Nishimino (western Mino, the border with Asakura clan's territory), they frequently provoked each other because the Nishimino forces (vassals in western Mino region) gradually became on the side of Nobunaga causing territorial friction. The vassals were divided into pro-Asakura and pro-independence groups, however Nagamasa eventually took the decision to ratify the alliance.

It is said that the alliance included conditions such as 'As long as the alliance holds, Oda will not advance to Asakura. Furthermore, if circumstances make an advance to Asakura necessary, Nobunaga will not forget to notify him of the advance.'
In addition, when they formed the alliance Nagamasa took Lady Oichi, a younger sister of Nobunaga, as his wife. Thanks to the alliance Nobunaga secured access to the capital, Kyoto, and had a degree of control over Yoshiaki ASHIKAGA, the 15th shogun, who stayed with the Asakura family. As a result of the alliance Nagamasa built a connection to the enormous power wielded by Nobunaga, and this held other daimyo in check (one anecdote suggests that Naotsune ENDO proposed a plan to Nagamasa to assassinate Nobunaga during his marriage to Lady Oichi). It is also said that Nobunaga was very happy with the alliance and he himself paid all the marriage expenses despite established practice at the time being that the Azai family would pay.

In August 1568, Yoshiaki ASHIKAGA, still staying with the Asakura family, gave up on Yoshikage who showed little intention of going to the capital at all, and stayed with Nobunaga. Because of this Nobunaga started going to the capital in October. On the way to the capital he attacked the Rokkaku clan who rebelled against him. Following this, the Rokkaku clan, who were an old enemy of Nagamasa, withdrew to Mount Hiei. The Azai clan also supported Yoshiaki militarily in his move towards the capital.

Breach of the alliance and the surrounding of Nobunaga

In 1570 Nobunaga broke his oath with Nagamasa not to fight Asakura, advanced along the western shore of Lake Biwa with Ieyasu TOKUGAWA and started to attack the castle of Asakura in Echizen Province. Nagamasa laid importance on the alliance with Yoshikage and made a surprise attack on the army of Oda and Tokugawa from behind. With the achievements of Katsumasa IKEDA and others who protected the shingari Nobunaga managed to escape from Omi Province though the fighting was hard (the Battle of Kanagasaki).

It is said that the vassals who had been against the alliance with Nobunaga got Hisamasa, who was in retirement, to suggest Nagamasa launch an attack on the Oda army since Nobunaga didn't inform Azai of his attack on Asakura. It is said that senior vassals Kiyotsuna KAIHO, Kazumasa ISONO, and Naotsune ENDO were against this, and one theory claims that the military advance against Nobunaga was made by recalcitrant vassals who were against Nobunaga. The most powerful busho didn't take part in the military advance to Tsuruga (Tsuruga City in Fukui Prefecture) and there is no description in the records indicating that Nagamasa was there either.

In July of the same year, Nagamasa, along with the Asakura army, fought with the Oda and Tokugawa allied forces in the Battle of Anegawa. It is said that Kazumasa ISONO, at the head of the Azai army, made a vicious attack on the Oda forces and succeeded in destroying eleven lines of protective soldiers out of a total of thirteen, resulting in the Oda army preparing for defeat. However, the Asakura army, which was deployed at the side of Nagamasa and was a sworn ally, took flight due to a vicious attack by Yasumasa SAKAKIBARA and others, though his forces were three times the size of those of the Tokugawa army. As a result the Azai army's flank became vulnerable, and the Three of West Mino, a detached force, attacked this weak point with the consequence that the Azai army also fled. This proclaimed the strength of the Tokugawa army to the world and highlighted the vulnerability of the Asakura army.

Following the Battle of Anegawa the territorial lords of Hongan-ji Temple (in the Battle of Noda-jo Castle and Fukushima-jo Castle), the Mori clan, the Takeda clan, and the Uesugi clan all declared themselves against Nobunaga (the Surrounding of Nobunaga). In addition, Takatora TODO took part in the Battle of Anegawa as a nameless heisotsu soldier, achieved many military exploits, and was given a letter of commendation by Nagamasa for taking part in the battle.

In October, he strengthened the attack on Nobunaga oncemore (the Siege of Shiga) in cooperation with the Asakura army, Enryaku-ji Temple, and followers of the Ikko sect, and beat Yoshinari Mori, Nobuharu Oda, and others. However, Enryaku-ji Temple on Mount Hiei, which had a cooperative relationship with the Azai clan, was destroyed by fire during an attack on Mount Hiei by Nobunaga in October 1571.

Shingen acts.

In August 1572 Nobunaga attacked Kitaomi leading a large force of 50,000 soldiers. Nagamasa asked Yoshikage ASAKURA for reinforcements, and Yoshikage quickly came to Omi at the head of 15,000 troops. Though there was a standoff with Nobunaga rather than a direct head-on military clash, the size of the Azai and Asakura allied forces was less than that of the Oda army, and it remained a tough situation.

In October of the same year, Shingen TAKEDA departed for the front leading 27,000 troops in response to a request from Shogun Yoshiaki ASHIKAGA. At this time Shingen sent a letter to both Nagamasa and Hisamasa.

It read 'I've just departed now, and you should carry out your strategy without hesitation.'

After this, Shingen dispersed the Oda and Tokugawa allied forces in Totomi Province in the Battle of Mikatagahara, and made his way to Mikawa. The role given to Nagamasa and others was to prevent the Oda army in Kitaomi from coming back to Mino Province. The strategy was that if the Oda army was stuck in Kitaomi, Nobunaga would not be able to fight against Shingen's troops at full power and this would increase the anti-Nobunaga allied forces' chance of winning the battle. For Nagamasa who was gradually being overwhelmed by the size of Oda's army, Shingen's attempt to advance to the west was an essential strategy that needed to be successful.

However, in January of the next year, the army of Yoshikage ASAKURA which had set up camp in Nagamasa's territory in Kitaomi went back to Echizen due to the fatigue of its soldiers and snow fall. The Oda army which had been stuck in Kitaomi returned to Mino without hindrance because of the withdrawal of Yoshikage's troops. This is because it was impossible to chase the Oda army with only the number of troops Nagamasa had. Shingen was furious with Yoshikage's arbitrary decision and sent a letter, the Ino Monjo (documents that Shingen TAKEDA sent to Yoshikage ASAKURA) inducing him to dispatch the troops again, however, Yoshikage couldn't respond to the request and decided to ignore it. Even so, Shingen waited for Yoshikage to send the troops again and held his own troops back, however, the following March he gave up on Yoshikage who had yet to reply and captured Noda-jo Castle in Ieyasu's territory. However, because of the fatigue caused by the long-term campaign, the midwinter coldness, and the stress from Yoshikage's decision, the chronic disease which Shingen had became significantly worse, and he died. The Takeda army then withdrew to Kai Province. Because of this, the siege was completely broken and Nobunaga could easily send a large force against Nagamasa and Yoshikage.

The fall of the Azai family

In September 1573 Nobunaga attacked Kitaomi again, leading 30,000 troops. Nagamasa asked Yoshikage for reinforcements, and Yoshikage quickly came leading 20,000 troops, however, when the Oda troops began to capture the castle in Kitaomi, he started withdrawing to Echizen before properly engaging the Oda army. Nobunaga chased the fleeing Asakura army and beat them at the Battle of Ichijodani Castle, before sending the troops against the Azai clan.

Nagamasa no longer had any way to resist, and his sphere of influence was reduced unilaterally by the large force under Nobunaga. Finally, Odani-jo Castle (Kohoku-cho, Shiga Prefecture), Nagamasa's headquarters, was surrounded by the Oda army. However, it seems that Nobunaga evaluated Nagamasa so highly that he didn't invade the castle immediately but summoned him to surrender again and again. It is said that Nobunaga offered him a new territory in Yamato Province if he surrendered, and this was a very preferential offer for Nobunaga who hated betrayal. Envoys such as Mitsuharu FUWA and Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI were also sent, but Nagamasa kept on saying no and the final request to surrender was not successful.

Ichi, a lawful wife of Nagamasa who had been happily married to him, decided to share the same fate as him, but Nagamasa convinced her and she decided to return home. It has been said that when Ichi returned to Nobunaga's camp, the Azai and Oda allied forces didn't attack at all.

On October 6 of the same year (September 1 in the old lunar calendar), he committed suicide with his father Hisamasa. He died aged 29.

In Shinchoko-ki (the biography of Nobunaga ODA), evaluated as a first class historical source, there is a description that they put the three heads of Yoshikage, Nagamasa and Hisamasa covered with hakudami (gold dust on a lacquered surface) on a platform made of plain wood as decorations and sang and played to enjoy the New Year feast in 1574. Though there is a popular belief that they drank sake using the skulls as glasses, no such description has been found in historical materials.

His graveyard is at Tokusho-ji Temple in Nagahama City, Shiga Prefecture.


The Azai clan's earliest ancestor is an illegitimate child of Kintsuna SANJO and the original surname is self-designated as of the Fujiwara clan, however, they were an old local ruling family in Kohoku and their name already appears in records in the Heian Period and Kamakura Period. During the Muromachi Period he proved himself as a kokujin ryoshu (local samurai lord) serving the Kyogoku clan, provincial constables. Before long, Sukemasa, a kyoyu (brutal fierce person), supported by the Asakura clan in Echizen Province beat the Asami clan, leaders of the kokujin rising, and emerged as the primary power in Kohoku.

[Original Japanese]