Sakuma Nobumori (佐久間信盛)

Nobumori SAKUMA was a busho (Japanese military commander) during the Azuchi-Momoyama Period. He was a vassal of Nobunaga ODA. He was a family head of the Sakuma clan. He was a provincial governor and held the position of Uemon no jo (the third ranked official of the Right Division of Outer Palace Guards). Nobuhide SAKUMA was one of his children, and Moritsugu SAKUMA (father of Morimasa SAKUMA, Katsumasa SHIBATA, and Katsuyuki SAKUMA) was one of his cousins.

He was born in Owari Province and served Nobuhide ODA. He was appointed as chief retainer of the young Nobunaga, consistently on his side during the time of his problems with succession to the position of family head, and he fought for him during a rebellion started by Nobuyuki ODA. He was given the highest rank among vassal groups afterwards, and was called 'Shirizoki SAKUMA' (Retreating SAKUMA), named for his excellence in directing the rear guard. Following Nobunaga in various battles, he participated in almost all the battles of the Oda family, and showed distinguished war service in the battle against the Rokkaku clan in Omi Province, for instance, capturing Mitsukuri-jo Castle, and also gave great performances in the battle of Nagashima Ikko Ikki (an uprising of Ikko sect followers in Nagashima) and the Ikko Ikki battle in Echizen Province. After the Asai clan turned against the Oda clan, he conquered the southern Omi along with Katsuie SHIBATA. He set Mt. Hiei afire (in 1571) and achieved great military exploits, so he was given Kurita County, Omi Province as chigyo-chi (territory) in November, 1571.

In the Battle of Mikatagahara (in 1572), Nobumori, together with Hirohide HIRATE, reinforced the 8,000 soldiers of Ieyasu TOKUGAWA with another 3,000 men, but he retreated without hardly any fighting as soon as he saw the 27,000 troops of the Takeda clan. Hirohide, who was a general of the same reinforcement troops, was killed in the battle while fighting with Ieyasu's army.

In August, 1573, the vassals of the Oda family received a reprimand from Nobunaga since they did not follow the army of Yosikage ASAKURA escaping from the battlefield. Nobumori proceeded to excuse their behavior tearfully by saying, "Whatever you say, no one would be able to have such excellent vassals as us," which fueled Nobunaga's anger ("Shinchoko-ki" [Biography of Nobunaga ODA]).

In 1576, after the death of Naomasa BAN, commander of the battle to capture Hongan-ji Temple, Nobumori assumed the role of commander, and his cohorts which included yoriki (mounted warriors) received from seven Kinai provinces were the biggest among those of the Oda family, but the battle was deadlocked because of the strong resistance from Hongan-ji Temple. After 10 years of war, Nobunaga moved the Imperial Court and reconciled with Hongan-ji Temple in 1580. By this point, SAKUMA had taken command of the biggest army among the Oda family in the Kinki region, and taking account of the fact that he had been a senior member since Nobunaga's succession, he was in a position which was called the "vice-president of Oda Joint-Stock Corporation," as novelist Yo TSUMOTO says.

In August, 1580, he received a letter of chastisement from Nobunaga consisting of 19 articles, and was banished to Mt. Koya along with his legitimate son Nobuhide SAKUMA. It was shocking both inside and outside the Oda family that he was suddenly dismissed from the position of the roshin (old retainer) in the highest rank among fudai (hereditary vassals) and also as commander of the biggest cohort. After that, he proceeded to the south since he was not allowed to stay in Mt. Koya, and the retainers of the Sakuma family deserted Nobumori and his son. It is said that only a few accompanied them when they went to Mt. Koya and only one to Kumano (Nobuhide thanked his loyalty and promoted him from komono [a lower servant] to the samurai class). "Shinchoko-ki" describes the decline of Nobumori and Nobuhide with compassion. The man who came to lead the largest force in the Kinki area after Nobumori was Mitsuhide AKECHI, and along with the severe human affairs which brought unrest to the vassals, this banishment was often said to be linked to the Honnoji Incident.

In January 16, 1582, he died in Kumano City, Kii Province. He died at 55. His homyo (posthumous Buddhist name) was Doumukeigen or Souyu. Right after his death, Nobuhide was forgiven and allowed to return to service as a vassal of Nobutada.

Inspection of the Documents

The Sakuma military record which documents the military exploits of the Sakuma clan suggests that there might have been slander by someone which caused this banishment, revealing that such a viewpoint existed during the early Edo Period, when the document was written.
Also, the article on Nobuhide (Masakatsu) SAKUMA in Kansei Choshu Shokafu (Genealogies of Vassals in Edo Bakufu) writes the following:

Later, Nobuhide ran to Mt. Koya with his father Nobumori due to Mitsuhide AKECHI 's slander. After the death of Nobumori, Nobunaga ODA learned of his innocence and regretted the banishment, and forgave Masakatsu and let him go under the assistant governor Nobutada ODA.

The Letter of Chastisement Consisting of 19 Articles by Nobunaga
1. Nobumori SAKUMA and his son Nobuhide both stayed in Tennoji for five years, but accomplished nothing. People are doubting you, and I too feel vexed as things come to mind.

2. If I guess what Nobumori is thinking about, who has not accomplished anything, you might be thinking that Ishiyama Hongan-ji Temple is a great enemy and that it will withdraw under Nobunaga's power in a few years even if you do not fight a battle or conceive a stratagem and if you just protect the castle. But this is not the way of a warrior. Fighting a battle after finding an opportunity to win would have been the intention of both Nobunaga's and the Sakuma's, but continuing to adhere to any protracted battle based on your own arbitrary ideas was frivolous and in poor judgment.

3. The achievements of Mitsuhide AKECHI are astonishing and earn him honor, while the services of Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI are also incomparable. Tsuneoki IKEDA has a small stipend, but he swiftly captured the Settsu Hanakuma Castle and earned his honor. You should rouse yourself to do superior service of the same sort.

4. Katsuie SHIBATA heard of these vassals' achievements and worried about his reputation because he had not had any significant achievements despite owning the entire Echizen Province, so he invaded and conquered Kaga Province this spring.

5. Those who are not confident in their military power conceive of stratagems, report what they are short of, and ask for my suggestions, but you have not done these things for five years.

6. A letter from Nobumori's yoriki (assistant commander) Tomomune YASUDA says that if you defeat the enemy of the uprising entrenched in Hongan-ji Temple, the rest in other small castles will run away, and the letter has the seals of Nobumori and Nobuhide.
You have never reported such a thing and just sent a letter, which means you are giving a plausible reason and an excuse to get out of your difficult position, aren't you?

7. Nobumori is receiving special treatment among the vassals. Including the Negoroshu (a group of armed priests in Negoro-ji Temple), he was given yoriki (mounted warriors) from seven provinces such as Mikawa Province, Owari Province, Omi Province, Kawachi Province, Izumi Province, and Kii Province. Adding your own vassals to this, you should not be able to lose any battles.

5. I gave you Kariya after the death of Nobumoto MIZUNO, but there was no increase of the number of vassals. You banished the old retainers of MIZUNO without establishing an heir, eventually putting the banished MIZUNO chigyo (enfeoffment) under your direct control, which is outrageous.

6. The same thing goes for the Yamazaki region, where you banished the supporters of Nobunaga. Here, the same thing happened as in Kariya.

7. It is understandable if you increase your vassals' chigyo, give them yoriki, or take them into your service, but you have not done these things. You just enriched your own stores and lost the honor you had in this world. This would be known even in the countries of Tang, Goryeo, and Nanban (Southeast Asian countries).

8. Last year, when we defeated ASAKURA, you insisted on your legitimacy despite being scolded for your bad forecasting in the battle, and moreover you breached your position, staining Nobunaga's honor. Despite your big talk, you keep occupying your camp here and your inability is unprecedented.

9. The list of charges against Jinkuro (Nobuhide) would be endless.

10. Broadly saying, he is greedy to begin with, hard to please, and will not take good men into his service. Besides, when he does not perform his service well, these things happen since neither the father nor the son understand the way of a warrior.

11. You mainly employ yoriki and only use yoriki for liaison with other warriors and for military services during battles, but you do not use your own vassals. You are using your territory for nothing and wasting it.

12. The yoriki and vassals of Nobumori are holding back from Nobuhide. It became like this because even as you boasted of your understanding and put on a genial act, your treatment was frightening, like a needle hidden in cotton.

13. While you have served me for 30 years since the generation of Nobunaga started, you have never performed services by which your achievements would be called incomparable.

14. During Nobunaga's life, the time when I lost a battle was when I sent the reinforcements for the Battle of Mikatagahara last year, and it is ordinary that someone wins and someone loses. Even if you fell behind because of Ieyasu, if your brothers or family, or one of your fudai had died on the battle field, people would not have doubted you since you luckily scapegoated the dead, but nobody died. In addition, it is clear that you were thoughtless in consideration of the fact that you looked calm even after you saw that Hirohide HIRATE, another commander of the reinforcements, died because you did not make any attempt to help him.

15. After all of this, all you have to do is conquer some enemy to vindicate your honor or die on a battle field.

16. As a matter of course, Nobumori and Nobuhide should enter the priesthood and seclude themselves in Mt. Koya to beg perpetually for forgiveness.

Public Estimation of Nobumori

The reason that the Ishiyama War was protracted was because he did not ask Nobunaga for a stratagem like Hideyoshi did for the war against China, and so he was idle enough to hold tea ceremonies too many times at the front. Kazumasu TAKIGAWA and Toshiie MAEDA, later mentioned, are not appropriate for comparison with Nobumori since they produced adequate results (Toshiie is greatly different from Nobumori in position and authority), but it looks as if Nobumori could not damage the army of Hongan-ji Temple and let the situation drag on since he was stingy about the military costs, and as if he spent that money on pleasure.

Nobumori's escape after 'losing the will to fight' at the Battle of Mikatagahara was far from the attitude of samurai which Ieyasu and Hirohide HIRATE took to face the battle from the front. Also, his behavior which looks as if he had let Ieyasu die without attempting to help him was not an act appropriate for a person who was an experienced warrior of the Oda family, and it was possible that this might have led to a problem for all of the Oda family if he had let the Tokugawa family become the enemy after Ieyasu's death, or if the number of allies had decreased. Whatever the process of his judgment on Ieyasu's matter was, it was his mistake not to confirm his ally's safety fully enough. As for this, however, we need to take into account that Ieyasu made a reckless move. By the way, Nobunaga ODA also looks as if he ran away for his life at the Battle of Kanagasaki, but it was a full retreat without major damage or confusion while being attacked from both sides, and from these facts we know Nobunaga ran away with his own small forces after giving a handful of directions and did not run away without trying to help the allies.

With all Nobumori's selfish behaviors, he would not have been able to say, "I'm doing my duty," and his excuses for the attack against Asakura were nothing other than his haughtiness, resting on his past achievements. In fact, he did not gain an advantage over Hongan-ji Temple and did not manage any appreciable results. Under these circumstances, it was thoughtless that he would devote himself to tea ceremonies which could only have been for pleasure, as mentioned above.

The misbehavior of his son Nobuhide came from his father's haughtiness, and Nobumori should be charged for this too.

The four years it took for subjugation in the Ishiyama War was never too long when we consider that a forcible attack could not be carried out because the enemy owned many guns, that stratagems were ineffective on the army of Hongan-ji Temple, and that the enemy could carry army provisions into Hongan-ji Temple from the sea, which could not be blockaded. Besides, as the rebellion of Murashige ARAKI shows, the situation in the Kinai region at that time was not stable enough for the Oda family.

As for the claim that Nobumori ran away without helping his ally at the Battle of Mikatagahara, the circumstantial judgment of Ieyasu, who decided to fight in an open field under those circumstances, was more at fault (TOKUGAWA's army had enough forces for besiegement if ODA's reinforcements were counted, so there was a high probability of not losing the battle if he decided to be besieged). If Nobumori had died, the person who had been directing the battles against Takeda and Hongan-ji Temple would have been missing and there might have been a possibility to disrupt the battle lines. Considering these points, his escape without fighting was not the best but understandable.
(As a matter of fact, when Naomasa BAN, the predecessor of Nobumori, died in the battle, the battle line against Hongan-ji Temple collapsed and the Oda family itself was also about to collapse.)
(Besides, at the Battle of Kanagasaki, Nobunaga himself did the same kind of thing, but the fact that his act is not under criticism should be considered.)

His talking back on the issue of attacking Asakura must have been in order to patch things up for the moment since Nobumori was in the position of patriarch among the retainers. To remonstrate the lord when he goes too far is a retainer's duty. Nobunaga might have thought it was none of Nobumori's business. But this is too flimsy a reason for banishment.

The claim that he did not maintain his vassals means that he was good at accounting and he did not employ any more vassals than necessary, so it was actually a virtue as a high-ranking officer. The failure caused by a shortage of vassals was seen only in the Battle of Mikatagahara, but, as mentioned above, the main reason for this failure was Ieyasu's misjudgment. As for the Ishiyama War which was brought up as an issue, Nobumori had enough forces for starvation tactics, and he did not commit a blunder such as Naomasa BAN, whose siege was broken. Considering that he performed military service as a reinforcement to the allies at various places without any mistakes, the fact that he did not employ vassals cannot be a reason to charge him. Besides, Kazumasu TAKIGAWA and Toshiie MAEDA did not employ enough vassals for their stipend, but they were not punished.

For the misbehavior of Nobuhide, it is certain that his parents and family were hugely responsible, but as far as Nobumori was doing his duty, it cannot be a reason big enough for the banishment.

After considering these points, the contents of the letter of chastisement are weak as a basis for Nobumori's banishment, and there is no evidence to show Nobumori was planning a rebellion, so Nobunaga's negative evaluation of Nobumori was just Nobumori's bad luck, or from another viewpoint, it was Nobunaga's will. The reason that Nobuhide was forgiven and allowed to return to the service of his master soon after the death of Nobumori is that Nobunaga decided that he had fully reflected on his conduct or that, from another perspective, Nobunaga was aware that his previous evaluation was wrong.

The novelist Haruhiko HIGUCHI writes in his book "Nobunaga no kashin-dan--'Tenka-fubu' wo sasaeta busho 34 nin no kiroku" (The Vassals of Nobunaga--A Record of 34 Commanders Who Supported 'Tenka-fubu' [a slogan that means that the samurai governs the whole world]) that the reason that Nobumori was banished was that Nobumori, who held territory in both Kinai and Mino, was an obstacle to Nobunaga, who owned Kinai and Mino as the directly controlled land of the Oda family and also had an idea of unifying the whole country, and HIGUCHI also claims that the letter of chastisement consisting of 19 articles was Nobunaga's false accusation written in order to confiscate Nobumori's territory with no conditions. In fact, Nobumori's territory was shared by Nobunaga and Nobutada after his banishment. According to HIGUCHI's analysis, Mitsuhide AKECHI, who also owned territory in Kinai, felt a sense of danger about Nobumori's banishment, and that Nobunaga's confiscation of Mitsuhide's territory in Sakamoto, Omi Province and Tanba Province, triggered the Honnoji Incident.

Anyway, the letter let Nobumori choose to either go into seclusion for the remainder of his life or regain his honor by making achievements at the risk of his life, and so the banishment was his choice and it should be taken into account that Nobunaga did not banish him without any choices (Toshiie MAEDA regained his honor by making an achievement). This suggests that Nobunaga's evaluation of Nobumori was higher than that of Mimasaka HAYASHI and other warriors.

[Original Japanese]