Oda Nobunaga - The "Devil King"

3 minute read

Determined to unify Japan, a ruthless daimyo decided to gather his army and storm the infamous Inabayama Castle in Gifu. Known by many as the 'Devil King', Oda Nobunaga was a name many Japanese warriors feared across the continent. Learn how one of Japan's most influential leaders overcame a difficult childhood to become a respected warlord, courtesy of American BladesPro.

Unique from Birth

Born into the prolific Oda clan, Nobunaga was the second son of the group's leader, Oda Nobuhide. Although he was the rightful heir to his father's throne, as a child, Nobunaga earned the nickname 'Owari no Outsuke', which translates to 'The Fool of Owari'. Many people thought of him as the black sheep of his family due to his odd behaviour and how he would hang around youths from different social rankings. 

Claiming the Throne

Sadly for Nobunaga, his father Nobuhide died suddenly in 1551 and, the young heir was distraught. At the funeral, Nobunaga became so saddened by his father's death that he started throwing ceremonial incense and acting hysterical at the altar. 

Nobunaga's reputation growing up and how he behaved at his father's funeral made several Oda clan members question whether he was ready to lead them, even though he was a legitimate heir. Angered by this succession crisis, Nobunaga rallied a thousand soldiers and ordered them to silence any members of his family that opposed him. 

An image of Oda Nobunaga's battle armour. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.


Even though Nobunaga was not afraid to flex his power, the young daimyo began having second thoughts about taking up his new role. Disgruntled by his decision, Hirate Masahide, Nobunaga's mentor, decided to commit seppuku to pressure him into leading the clan. Masahide's shocking death convinced Nobunaga to honour his position as the clan leader. Motivated by the loss of his mentor, Nobunaga overcame more attempts from his uncle and younger brothers to dethrone him and eradicated all rival Oda clan members by 1559.

Rise of the 'Devil King'

Once he solidified his spot as the undisputed leader of the Oda clan, Nobunaga got targeted by Imagawa Yoshimoto, a daimyo who wanted to claim a portion of his land. Vastly outnumbered 25,000 men to around 3,000, multiple of Nobunaga's advisors told him to perform a siege around their enemy's territory. Ignoring the advice he received, the daimyo decided to use a 'strong offensive policy' against Yoshimoto's large army.

On the battlefield, Oda Nobunaga wielded the intimidating Dojigiri Yasutsuna sword. Browse through our popular katana sword range to find the blade that suits you.  


Later that year, a unit of Oda clan spies reported back to Nobunaga, telling him that the Imagawa army was rejoicing at a narrow gauge following their victory at the Washizu and Marune fortresses while Yoshimoto rested. Sensing an opportunity to launch a surprise attack, Nobunaga commanded his soldiers to create straw-men with spare helmets and mount flags at a nearby temple to deceive the Imagawa army into thinking they had more troops. After the decoys got placed, the Oda clan's army rushed around the back of the gauge to sneak attack Imagawa's men from behind. 

During the ambush, a chilling thunderstorm closed in on the gauge causing the Imagawa army to seek shelter. Instead of taking cover themselves, Nobunaga continued his forceful approach and insisted that his men kept charging forward. Yoshimoto woke from his sleep after the surprise attack and began thinking his men were fighting among each other. He quickly realised this was not the case when two samurais from the Oda clan charged him with their weapons and killed him. 

Following Yoshimoto's death, many of the Imagawa soldiers retreated or surrendered to Nobunaga. Emerging victorious from what is now known as the Battle of Okehazama helped Nobunaga gain respect from many samurais and warlords across the country.

A Fatal Betrayal

From 1568 to 1582, Nobunaga grew in power dramatically and became regarded for his attempts to unify Japan. After claiming most of Japan, Nobunaga started to plan an invasion of the Echigo Province and Shikoku. Before launching the campaigns, Nobunaga decided to visit the Honno-Ji temple in Kyoto to host a tea ceremony. 

Since he was only visiting for recreational purposes, Nobunaga only brought 30 pages along with him and his son, Oda Nobutada, was accompanied by 2000 of his soldiers. Knowing that he was vulnerable, samurai Akechi Mitsuhide wanted to betray and assassinate Nobunaga for unknown reasons. Mitsuhide started his assassination attempt by misleading his army into Kyoto while pretending to follow the daimyo's orders. Instead, he commanded them to surround the Honno-Ji temple. 

A statue made in honour of Oda Nobunaga at Kiyosu Park. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Heavily outnumbered by Mitsuhide's men, Nobunaga instructed one of his page's, Mori Ranmaru, to burn down the temple while he committed seppuku so no one could decapitate his head. Ranmaru followed his master's wishes and, Nobunaga's remains never got discovered. Once he captured Honno-Ji, Mitsuhide also attacked the daimyo's son, Nobutada and forced him to commit suicide. 

Years after his unexpected death, Nobunaga's legacy lived on through his trusted retainer and samurai, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who avenged him and followed in his footsteps to become Japan's second 'Great Unifier'.