Oda Nobunaga was a hardcore, murderous town-burning peasant-smiting samurai-decapitating Japanese feudal badass with psychotic mood swings, zero respect for authority, and an epic sense of entitlement that makes even the most homicidally-insufferable convertible-driving millennial startup CEO look like one of those starving third world kids who try to snatch handfuls of rice being thrown out the window of a UNICEF Urban Assault Humvee. In his countryside-scouring murder-quest to dominate the provinces of Japan with a pencil mustache, a blood-drenched katana, and a raging-hard killboner, Oda Nobunaga burned Buddhist temples to the ground, drank wine out of human skulls, assassinated his own relatives, trained peasants how to shoot the balls off of aristocratic samurai (who he thought were a bunch of privileged delusional fuckwits), and generally just dismembered more appendages than a psychotic sentient malfunctioning industrial limb-ripping thresher. Through a two-decade reign of terror that cemented this man as the primary supernatural villain in basically every work of Japanese fiction produced since 1582, Nobunaga was so ruthlessly fantastic at emotionlessly racking up R-rated 1980s action movie-grade body counts that Japanese history simply refers to him as “The Demon King.”
Nobunaga was born in 1534 in a badass castle full of awesome fucking samurai swords that he got to play with any time he wanted. He was tutored in the Chinese Classics, warfare manuals, archery, horsemanship, and swordfighting by some of the best masters in Japan, but Nobunaga didn’t give a shit, was a terrible student, slacked off all the time, and was so arrogant and irreverent that one of Nobunaga’s tutors got pissed off and killed himself by seppuku, which is the ancient Japanese custom of dressing up in your best robes and then murdering yourself by sawing your own organs in half with a sword through the midsection. Nobunaga was prone to wild ultra-rage mood swings, didn’t give a crap what anyone thought about him, and operated his entire life under the notion that he would just bulldoze his way through anyone that didn’t like him until the entire countryside of Japan looked like the cover of a Savage Sword of Conan comic.
When Nobunaga’s dad died Nobunaga lost his shit, flew into a rage (during the middle of the funeral), threw a bunch of incense into the grave, punched a hole in the wall, and started screaming like a pissed-off maniac. A couple of Nobunaga’s relatives thought maybe this kid was a little too over-the-top psychotically-murderous to be running a Clan, and even though Nobunaga was the rightful next ruler of the Oda Clan, these uncles conspired to seize power for themselves instead. It didn’t work out great: The 21 year-old Oda Clan ruler broke into one of the would-be usurper uncle’s castle in the middle of the night and sliced his head off with a single swing of his razor-sharp blade. Then he went to the other uncle’s castle, lured him and his army out with a ruse, then had the guy and his entire family executed as traitors.
He’s a great example of how much Oda Nobunaga did not give a fuck. In 1560, a lord of the Imagawa Clan was marching an army of 25,000 warriors towards Kyoto on a mission to capture the capital and set himself up as the new warlord of Japan. Imagawa’s march brought him through Nobunaga’s land, and the Imagawa ended up burning a couple towns that were loyal to the Oda Clan.
Oda Nobunaga assembled his army. All 3,000 men. When someone helpfully informed the impetuous soon-to-be Demon King that it was fucking asinine to try and attack an enemy in a battle where victory would require every single one of your soldiers to single-handedly kill 9 enemies, Nobunaga simply said, “Do you really want to spend your entire lives praying for longevity? We were born in order to die! Whoever is with me, come to the battlefield tomorrow morning. Whoever is not, just stay wherever you are and watch me win it!”
And that’s exactly what he did.
Riding downhill through a driving rainstorm, Nobunaga joined his best 1,500 warriors on a ferocious hellacious death charge through the mud and the wind head-on into the town where the Imagawa Clan forces were camped. Crashing through the enemy, Nobunaga and the Oda Clan armies cut, fired guns, trampled, burned, screamed, and psychotically started spree-killing every single human being they could reach with the blade of their bloody katanas. The Imagawa, not knowing what the dog balls was going on, had no idea they were being beat to shit by a mere handful of big-dicked samurai motherfuckers, and they ran for it. Oda Nobunaga and his bodyguard cleaved through the terrified, routed enemy force, kicked in the door to Lord Imagawa’s headquarters, and slaughtered Imagawa and all of his top commanders.
The next day, Oda put out a call to the soldiers of the routed Imagawa Army – join me, or I will hunt you down and kill you all.
During this time period, the countryside of Japan was divided into 66 provinces, each with its own ruler known as a daimyo. Nobunaga intended to conquer all 66.
He put together a base of power, made some alliances, and went to work on his mission to dominate “all the world by force of arms.” He recruited some talented generals – Ieyasu Tokugawa, lord of Mikawa, and Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a fearless sword-swinging peasant warrior – to come work for him. Together these, three men would be three of the most powerful and revered warriors in the history of Japan. Hideyoshi would continue Nobunaga’s work after his death, and Tokugawa would eventually install a Shogunate that would run Japan through a golden age of peace that would last over 250 years. So those were good choices.
In 1565, the rightful Shogun of Japan came to Oda Nobunaga and asked for help retaking the Ashikaga Shogunate from a usurper who had killed the true shogun’s dad and stolen his title. Oda, seeing a badass opportunity, immediately assembled 30,000 men and marched on the Capital. He crushed the usurper, installed the Shogun, and then forced that dude to sign a document allowing Nobunaga to issue orders in the Shogun’s name without actually asking the Shogun’s permission. The Shogun was like, well, dude, maybe I can just make you like my assistant or something? Like deputy Shogun? And Nobunaga was like get humped, dipshit, you do what I say. I’m the fucking assistant of anything.
The Shogun was kind of over a barrel, seeing as how he didn’t actually have an army or anything, and Oda Nobunaga became the de facto ruler over like half of Japan at the age of 35.
As the effective head of state, Oda Nobunaga ruled through fear, intimidation, and raw displays of vengeance and power. He also standardized Japanese coins and measurements, abolished tolls, broke up business monopolies, sent badass ninja spies to gather intel on rivals all over the country, built a 27-story-tall castle, and became a master falconer. Nobunaga also took extra care to make friends with Jesuit priests pretty much right away. He did this not because he particularly loved hearing Jesus stories, but mostly because the Jesuits were Westerners and they had guns and knew how to operate them. Nobunaga bought as many guns as he could, updated his army with matchlock muskets, and then sent his army to capture the only place in Japan where muskets were manufactured. He taught his men how to fire in waves, with one group shooting while the other group reloaded, and laughed his ass off at the idea that he could take a handful of previously-unskilled peasants and turn them into a fighting force capable of mowing down battle-hardened samurai left and right.
As much as he bro’d it up with the Jesuits, Oda Nobunaga fucking epically hated the Buddhists. Again, he could have given two shits about religion; he just didn’t like that Buddhist warrior-monks were always screwing with him. In 1571 he warned the monks of Mount Hiei to stay the hell out of his way or he would burn their mountain to the ground. They ignored his first-and-final warning, so he climbed the mountain, laid siege to the temple, and then set fire to an 800 year-old temple city that was believed at the time to the the holiest site in all of Japan. Now, obviously it’s not really that cool to burn people to death and trash religious artifacts and order your ashigaru to spear, shoot, or torch every living creature you come across, but you have to love that this dude just was so completely devoid of fucks to give that he killed every single person on that mountain and razed every structure until nothing remained.
Nobunaga had so much fun burning monks alive that he did it a couple more times, torching two more temples and laying siege to the Ishiyama Hongan-ji. When one rival warlord tried to send 600 wooden ships to aid the Ishiyama monks, Oda showed up with his secret weapon – seven bullet-proof, sword-proof ironclad warships he’d bought from the Portuguese Jesuits. He literally rammed those ironclads up the wood ships’ poop decks and smashed their entire fleet to flotsam in an afternoon. Then he had his warriors ride up and down the coast stabbing any samurai lucky enough to swim to the shore.
The next losers to feel Nobunaga’s sword inside their faces were the armies of the Asai and Asakura Clans. I guess at some point the Shogun found his balls and decided to beg these morons to help him get rid of Nobunaga, and the Asai and Asakura made the very ill-informed decision to try and actively raise an army against Oda Nobunaga. Nobunaga kicked the ever-loving bejeezus out of them with a hail of gunfire, arrows, and stampeding samurai, stood there laughing his balls off while the enemy Clan leaders seppukued themselves in front of him, and then he sliced their heads off, plated the skulls in gold, and used them as sake bowls. Then he headed back to Kyoto, kicked the Shogun back into place, and then levied taxes on the city of Kyoto so that they could pay Nobunaga back for the war he just had to fight. When the residents of Kyoto gave some bullcrap response like “we don’t have any money” or something, Nobunaga sealed off the city and started burning it to the ground one neighborhood at a time until they were saw things his way and decided that yeah, maybe they should probably pay up.
I’m guessing none of this helped Nobunaga’s reputation as “The Demon King”. Toasting your own badassitude in a sake bowl you made from the skulls of your defeated enemies while you’re burning down the capital city of your own kingdom one neighborhood at a time isn’t necessarily something that’s always viewed favorably by history, but that’s because history is usually written by assholes.
Well if Nobunaga ever stopped immolating de-limbed Buddhists long enough to listen to them for a second, he’d have learned that karma can kind of be a dick and catch up to you every so often. So, in 1582, Nobunaga was at war with the Mori Clan, some random group of jobbers he was in the process of grinding into broken glass with the heel of his boot. Hideyoshi was leading the attack, but the advance stalled, so Nobunaga ordered another of his subordinates, a guy named Akechi Mitsuhide, to go see what the hell was taking so long with the conquest. Akechi had been paid off by Nobunaga’s rivals though, and when he got the order Akechi was like nah, forget that and sent his army after Nobunaga personally.
It should give you some idea of how otherworldly-badass this man was that when Akechi went to sneak-attack assassinate Nobunaga, Akehi didn’t march to the Castle of the Demon Lord Alone.
He brought ten thousand men with him.
I wish I had more details on this, but when Oda Nobunaga realized he was being betrayed by his subordinate he didn’t try to bargain, negotiate, or reason with the traitors. He just grabbed his swords, strapped them to his hip, and assembled his 100-man bodyguard of badass swordsmen to last stand this shit.
According to the stories, Oda Nobunaga and his 100 bodyguards held out way longer than you’d expect 100 men to last against 10,000. Fighting, slashing, cutting, and hacking at the enemy while the castle burned around them, cannonballs and musketballs whizzed through the air, and enemy soldiers charged in from every direction, Nobunaga grimly dissected balls and shanked faces with blazing speed. Finally, after a long, bloody engagement, with his men dying left and right around him and his strength failing, Oda Nobunaga retired to his chambers and killed himself by seppuku. He wasn’t going to let those assholes get the satisfaction (or the XP) of killing him themselves.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi would eventually come back, kill Akechi Mitsuhide, and ceremonially present the traitor’s head at Nobunaga’s funeral. Hideyoshi would finish Nobunaga’s work unifying the country, creating a unified Japan that would live in peace and prosperity under the Tokugawa Shogunate for over 250 years.
Oda Nobunaga had been a minor lord, so violent and rageful that his own family members thought him unfit to run the Clan. By the time of his death in 1582, the Demon King was the unquestioned ruler over 31 of Japan’s 66 provinces.