By Masaru Kawanishi / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior WriterITAMI, Hyogo — In October 1578, as the legendary warlord Oda Nobunaga was accelerating moves to unify Japan, he received news of a rebellion by one of his retainers.
Araki Murashige had been appointed by Nobunaga as lord of Settsu Province (now an area from northwestern Osaka Prefecture to southeastern Hyogo Prefecture). Five years earlier, Murashige, who was a powerful military commander in the northern part of the region, pledged his loyalty to Nobunaga as the leader was facing difficulties from an alliance of rebellious feudal lords in various parts of the country. In the ensuing time, Murashige achieved success in battle, taking part in Nobunaga’s military operations that included attacks against shogun Ashikaga Yoshiaki and fighting in the Ishiyama Honganji War in Osaka.
As such, the betrayal of Murashige came as a great surprise to Nobunaga, who had never had cause to suspect his loyalty. “Shinchoko-ki,” the biography of Oda Nobunaga written by another retainer, Ota Gyuichi, describes Nobunaga’s efforts to persuade Murashige by dispatching a chief vassal, who relayed the message: “Why are you dissatisfied? If there is anything you want, I will grant it.”
However, Murashige would not be persuaded, and Nobunaga, having given up on trying, launched an attack on Murashige’s base of Arioka Castle in what is now Itami, Hyogo Prefecture. The castle held firm, and Nobunaga changed his tactic to disrupting the supply lines to the rebel army, looking to starve them into submission. They bravely held out against the fierce attack, but morale began to decay as the siege grew prolonged. According to the biography, three commanders of common foot soldiers betrayed Murashige, opening the way for the Oda army to break through the defenses. The yearlong siege of Arioka Castle was over.
In retribution, Nobunaga ordered the burning alive of more than 500 people, including Murashige’s retainers and their wives and children.
The horrible scene is graphically described in Shinchoko-ki: “Choking amid the intense, the extremely intense heat of the flames, they danced and leaped in agony. Their cries of sorrow rose with the smoke and reverberated in the sky. Torture by devils in hell would be like this.”
What kind of castle was Arioka, that made such trouble for Nobunaga? Much of the remains were demolished with the opening of the railways in the Meiji era (1868-1912), and today only a few relics such as stone walls remain in a historic ruins park located in a section of the downtown area.
Asuka Nakaguro, director of the Itami City Museum, explained how the castle was fortified.
“The castle and castle town were surrounded by earthen mounds, known as the ‘Sogamae’ structure, effectively making the entire town into a fort,” Nakaguro said. “It is believed to have been 1,700 meters from north to south and about 800 meters from east to west. To enhance its ability to defend the town, many moats were built.”
The castle was built on a hill at the edge of a plateau. It is believed there was a fortress on the northern edge of the Sogamae structure in the Inano Shrine compound, which is located in the northwest of the historic ruins park. Standing at the edge of the compound, the neighboring residential area can be seen below the steep rise. To launch an attack against such a height would surely have been difficult.
Prior to the fall of Arioka Castle, Murashige moved to Amagasaki Castle in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, where his oldest son Muratsugu was the lord. It was there Murashige survived the siege of Arioka, but also gained a reputation as a coward who fled to only save himself.
However, it is hard to imagine that Murashige, recognized as a hero of many battles, would have abandoned those around him. As Amagasaki Castle was close to the sea, it was a base for receiving supplies and soldiers from the Mori clan and others in the Chugoku region who opposed Nobunaga. It would be logical to believe that Murashige broke out of the encirclement of Arioka Castle in order to defend Amagasaki Castle, which was exposed to attack.
“My conjecture is that Murashige’s rebellion stemmed from his increasing dissatisfaction with Nobunaga, who valued those who came from the same Owari region that he did, no matter how they failed, and that he did not adequately credit Murashige’s achievements,” said Tadayuki Amano, an associate professor at Tenri University.
“There were a number of military commanders other than Murashige who broke away from Nobunaga. I think Nobunaga’s organizational administration was deeply flawed. We should not excessively regard Nobunaga as a hero, but need to consider his true character.”
In the turbulent times of the Sengoku warring period (late 15th to late 16th centuries), many feudal warlords were brought to ruin. While we tend to focus on the winners, sometimes we need to consider the losers.
Access: The Arioka Castle Historic Ruins Park is located in front of the west exit of Itami Station on JR Fukuchiyama Line. It is about a 10- to 15-minute walk to Inano Shrine from either JR Itami Station or Hankyu Itami Station.Speech