The Battle of Okehazama
For centuries, Japan’s warlords battled it out for supremacy. The battles between them were often bloody and, for the most part, disciplined affairs, with tactics and fighting ability of paramount importance. The Battle of Okehazama was quite different in this respect. While it was certainly bloody, it was far from a masterclass in military tactics. Rather it served as a lesson to all military commanders – never let your men get too drunk that they cannot defend themselves from surprise attacks.
In 16th century Japan, two men named Oda Nobunaga and Imagawa Yoshimoto were vying for control of the Owari Province. In June of 1560, Imagawa Yoshimoto raised an army of 25,000 men and went on the offensive. He was aiming to take Kyoto, then the nation’s capital city. And at first it looked like nobody could stand in the way of him achieving his goal, not even his sworn enemy. Imagawa and his samurai made steady progress, capturing key fortresses and small towns. So, encouraging was their progress that, when they set up camp one day for a break, the men decided to have a party. Since it was an unusually hot summer’s day, the drink flowed even more freely than usual, with even the men’s commander joining in the revelry.
Oda Nobunaga was not one to sit back and wait to be attacked. Instead, learning of his rival’s advances, he raised a small army of his own and set out. Against his advisors’ counsel, he chose to go on the offensive. Cleverly, he used decoys to make it look like he had set up camp in a small fortress and was waiting to be besieged. In reality, however, Oda Nobunaga and around 3,000 of his men slowly crept up on their enemy’s camp and waited for the right moment to strike.
When a passing storm had come to an end, Oda Nobunaga gave the order to attack. Despite being outnumbers 12 to 1, his men recorded a famous victory. The enemy soldiers were either sleeping or too drunk to put up a fight. Many simply fled as discipline broke down. The legend also adds that Imagawa Yoshimoto himself was caught by surprise and initially thought the sound of fighting outside his tent was just his men drunkenly messing around. Upon stumbling out of his tent – drunk himself, apparently – the great warlord was killed on the spot, only managing to lightly injure just one of his enemies.