(1534 - 1582) Japan
Oda Nobunaga was the first individual to attempt to unify Japan at the end of the Warring States period; his ultimate goal, though he never realized it, was to bring all of Japan "under a single sword". Like so many others in the history of Japan, he rose from an obscure family through ruthless ambition to become one of the most powerful men in Japan. His rise to power was slow and deliberate and his use of power unforgiving.
Independent and rough-mannered, young Nobunaga cares little about the protocols of clan life, finding more fascination in the study of warfare. His vassals are exasperated with his wild ways and even his mother shows preference to her younger son becoming heir to the Oda Clan. But Nobunaga's father arranges the marriage of his elder son to the daughter of a political rival and sets into motion a chain of events that would change Nobunaga's life.
The most significant step he took in unifying the country was the destruction of the Buddhist monastery of Mt. Hiei. All throughout the medieval period in Japan, from the Heike war onwards, the monks of Mt. Hiei had played a significant role in both the political and military course of Japan. Seeing Mt. Hiei as a threat to future stability, he destroyed the monastery and hunted down every single Hiei monk and slaughtered them, regardless of their age or innocence.
One of Oda's most significant contributions to Japanese history, outside of laying the groundwork for the future unification of the country, was his eager embrace of Westerners. Out of his dislike of esoteric Buddhism, he was fascinated by Christianity and welcomed Jesuit missionaries. As a result, he's the first Japanese leader to appear in Western histories.
He also, very shrewdly, embraced Western technology firearms, in particular. Firearms had been imported into Japan since the late fifteenth century; although these weapons were primarily firelocks and inherently unstable, Oda Nobunaga was the first Japanese to figure out both offensive and defensive tactics with the new weapons. Besides retraining his armies for new tactics, he also built massive stone forts that would resist the new firearms. Finally, he was the first Japanese leader to employ iron-cladding on his warships, which made them virtually unbeatable.
Oda never succeeded in unifying the country; just as he was on the verge of success, he was assassinated by two of his generals at the age of forty-eight.
0da is also remembered for his love story with the bishônen (= handsome young man) Mori Ranmaru, 17-year-old, which set the pattern for other officers taking beautiful youths for lovers, enforcing a tradition of open homosexuality in the Japanese military.
Mori Ranmaru, a young page to Oda, was something of an advisor to Nobunaga and his gopher. Ranmaru is probably the most famous bishônen in Japanese history.
Besides being a beautiful young page, he was a guard, a soldier, and a lover (kosho) who served Nobunaga and ultimately died side by side with him. The name Ranmaru could be used in Japan almost like Adonis or Narcissus in Western culture.
Mori Ranmaru (in blue formal dress, played by Yamanaka Yasuhito) as depicted in Kurosawa Akira's movie The Shadow Warrior. Even his seat is closest to the Master of the realm; in real life he was Oda's most trusted aide.