Iga no Ran

Oda Nobunaga’s Interest in Iga

The Iga province was attacked twice by the Oda family in the late 16th century. The reason for this was actually not in the Iga region but the entire Ise region. For a long time, this region was ruled by the Kitabatake family. Kitabatake and the ruling Nikki family in the Iga region were well aware of the Ninja activities but did not intervene because they respected the incredible abilities of the Ninja. Kitabatake Tomonori even built a castle on Mount Maruyama in the middle of the Iga region to control Iga from here. However, he never completed this mission, probably because the people of Iga had such a close connection with the Ninja families.

It all started in 1560 when Oda Nobunaga and his armies achieved great success. In 1568 he dethroned the last Ashikaga shogun in Kyōto and ordered his troops to conquer Ise because he was still surrounded by his enemies Mori, Takeda, and Uesugi. He needed control of the Tokaidō main road that traversed the northern Ise region. Kitabatake Tomonori lost Kanbe Castle and Kuwana Castle. Kuwana Castle was very important because of its strategic ability to defend the Tokaidō Strait. Oda’s successes on the battlefield continued, and he conquered Okawachi in fifty days, forcing Kitabatake Tomonori to agree to peace. The condition was that Kitabatake adopts Oda’s second son, Nobuo, who was twelve at the time.

Kitabatake lost many territories in Ise as a reward for Oda’s generals, but he retained his post as a puppet Daimyō. He was later assassinated, perhaps by one of his former vassals, Tsuge Saburozaemon. This meant that Oda Nobuo inherited control of the province. The Kitabatake family, led by Kitabatake Tomoyari, gathered all their loyal Samurai and supporters from the Iga region to take revenge on Oda Nobuo. Tomoyari had been a priest in Nara but returned when Tomonori was assassinated. It is believed that Tsukahara supported Bokuden’s (one of the most famous swordsmen) son Tomoyari, but the uprising was crushed by Oda Nobuo’s general Takigawa Saburohei Kazumasu. The surviving Samurai fled to Iga, where they enlisted the help of Mori Motonari. Motonari’s region was not involved in the fight against Oda, but his forces began to harass Oda Nobunaga. This was reason enough to take on Motonari.

The Uprising of Iga

What became known as Iga no Ran was an uprising that began in 1579 when Shimoyama Kai no Kami came to Nobuo to complain about the rest of the population of Iga. Nobuo felt he finally had a reason to prepare for battle by rebuilding the castle his stepfather, Kitabatake Tomonori, never finished. He ordered Takigawa Saburohei to complete the castle on Mount Maruyama.

The castle towered 180 meters above the waters of the Hijiki, and although Takigawa Saburohei used his own Ninja to plan the invasion, many Iga Ninja decided to participate in the construction of the castle and returned with knowledge of the castle’s weak points.

The leaders of Iga decided to attack before the castle was completed. Iga Samurai and Ninja attacked together, forcing Takigawa’s soldiers to retreat to the villages at the foot of the mountain because the castle was not yet strong enough to protect them. They were attacked by smaller groups of Samurai. Those soldiers who were holed up in the castle soon realized that the Iga soldiers knew how to get into the castle.

They fled to join the rest of the Takigawa forces. Takigawa’s troops were herded into the flooded rice fields and into the forests. The battle continued into the night until they were defeated. Takigawa himself fled to Matsugashima and survived the battle. The next day, the Ninja and Samurai burned down the castle.

After his defeat at Maruyama, Takigawa decided to avenge his loss of honor and supported Oda Nobuo when he decided to conquer Iga. Despite the advice of the rest of his vassals, Nobuo rode into battle. He planned to attack with 12,000 men through Matsugashima’s best three passes. Nobuo himself led the attack through the northern Nagano Pass. The residents of Iga used the Ninja to get the information in time and easily defeated Nobuo’s army.

Takigawa attacked from the south through Oniboku Goe (Devil’s Pass). They were defeated in much the same way as Nobuo. At the same time, the Iga troops had an extra triumph when they exacted their revenge on Tsuge Saburozaemon who was accompanying Takigawa.

The third and final attack struck between the other two attacks. The troops were led by Nagano Sakyo Tayu and Akiyama Ukyo Tayu. Upon reaching Iseji, they were lured to launch an attack on a village. They had long since passed the hidden Iga troops and were attacked from behind, which prevented any escape attempts and completely destroyed them. Nobuo narrowly escaped with his life and fled back to Matsushiga.

Text: Peter CarlssonTranslation: Stefan Imhoff