Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Daimyo!


Have I mentioned lately how much I love Oda Nobunaga?

Probably not. Even using the name "Oda Nobunaga" gives me flashbacks to the sixth grade when I quite literally carried a Japanese history book with me everywhere I went. I also wore boys' clothing and giggled whenever so much as said the word "thing", which shows how much I knew back then. Still, a small bout of nostalgic research led me to realize how cool the first great unifier of Japan really was, even now.

The truly sad fact is that most Americans aren't familiar with Nobunaga. He wasn't even mentioned in my World History textbook my freshman year of high school. Those who have heard of him think we was little more than a ruthless tyrant. My own uncle, a history teacher himself, even described him as having been "mean".

Let's look at this guy in context for a moment. Japan was in the middle of a bloody civil war. The shogun was a weakling and overzealous Daimyo had taken to beating the crap out of each other. One might just as well call Abraham Lincoln "mean" (he did, after all, suspend haebeus corpus, right?). Sure, he wasn't perfect, but for his time and place, Nobunaga was pretty dang brilliant.

The guy wasn't afraid to go against the grain. That's really saying something in a culture as rigid as that of Japan. When we read about his childhood, we find that, even then, he was an oddball, nicknamed "the fool of Owari" because he was, well, weird. Ultimately, his "weirdness" was one of his greatest assets. When the Jesuit missionaries landed on the shores of Japan, many people saw them as unwelcome and invasive. Nobunaga welcomed them and saw them as allies, to some extent. This situation was win-win: the Jesuits were allowed to live there and Nobunaga was given access to European influence. ...And by "influence", I mean "firearms".

Essentially, this Daimyo had at least a subconscious grasp of some of the most important practices and values that we have today. He welcomed new information as a way to improve on old ways. Note also that, though he was fascinated by the Jesuits, he never converted to Christianity. This indicates that he didn't accept new information at face value, either. He chose to separate useful facts from philosophy. He realized that tradition for the sake of tradition was ultimately fruitless and thus, worked to improve upon said traditions. He was a strategist and his strategies worked. Oh yeah, and he was an atheist. ;)

At the risk of sounding too simplistic in my analysis of history, I guess my point is that I would love to go back in time and meet this guy. Heck, I'd like to bring him back to our century and see how he would react. From all that I've read about him, he appears to have had a keen mind and a surprisingly progressive mindset. That's why I admire him.

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