This book looks at three key sixteenth century battles that involved the highly regarded Samurai of the Takeda clan in clashes with ashigaru infantry. This was the period in which the ashigaru went from being fairly amateurish troops recruited for short periods to being an increasingly well trained force of spearmen and matchlock firearms more than capable of holding their own on the battlefield.
This is the last period in which the traditional distinction between samurai and ashigaru was really meaningful, but also the last in which a peasant could rise from the fields to the aristocracy. In the armies studied here some of the samurai were professional warriors, but others were part time warriors and part time farmers, as were most of the ashigaru. Ironically it would be Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who had himself rise from the ranks of the ashigaru to become the ruler of Japan, who changed this forever with two edicts – the Sword Hunt of 1588 in which the peasants and other possible enemies of his regime were disarmed and the Separation Edict of 1591 which prevented peasants from leaving their fields. The existing ashigaru became accepted as the lowest rung in the samuri class and a major part of Japanese armies for the rest if the Warring States period.
One gets the distinct impression that the traditional samurai were becoming obsolete in this period. Individually they may have been expert swordsmen and well equipped spearmen, but well organised ashigaru infantry were perfectly capable of taking them on, and after the appearance of the matchlock firearm were much easier to train. At Uedahara the most dangerous ashigaru were spearmen, and they played a key part in the defeat of the first Takeda attack and the death of the Takeda general Itagaki Nobukata. At the second battle the Takeda had ashigaru of their own, who played a part in the deaths of at least two senior samurai. At Nagashino well placed ashigaru armed with muskets and placed behind a defensive palisade were able to repel a series of attacks by the elite Takeda samurai, effectively ending the power of that clan.
This is an excellent examination of a key period in Japanese military, in which the ashigaru infantry became increasingly important, helping to explain why this change took place.
The Opposing Sides
Uedahara, 23 March 1548
Mikata Ga Hara, 25-26 January 1573
Nagashino, 28 June 1575
Author: Stephen Turnbull