My favorite historical figure from the Sengoku Jidai is not a great Daimyo like Hideyoshi or Nobunaga but Mori Ranmaru (Mori Narutoshi before Nobunaga named him “Ranmaru” as was customary for any of the Mori clan serving under him.)
Mori Ranmaru was a page under Oda Nobunaga until his death in the Honnoji Incident. He was a young boy, historians are unsure of his age but place him at 17-19 at his death, and was allegedly Nobunaga’s favorite retainer.
Mori Ranmaru was introduced to Nobunaga at the age of 6. Some accounts claim that Nobunaga was so taken by his beauty that he leaned over to another servant of his and said, “I want him.”
Ranmaru then entered Nobunaga’s service after being gifted to said Lord by his father. He quickly became recognized as a hard and skilled worker, and he became Nobunaga’s most trusted page.
It is said that only two people could calm Nobunaga down when he went through a fit of rage, and Ranmaru was definitely one of them (the other being Hideyoshi). The young page knew how long it took for his lord to cool off; and he was skilled in soothing his lord with gentle words and charm.
Ranmaru is also recognized for the ability to read Nobunaga’s mind. Nobunaga would often make spur of the moment decisions, like going horse riding, and would be greeted by Ranmaru holding his horse before the former had even voiced his desire.
Asides from mind reading and peacekeeping, Ranmaru is also recognized as being fiercely loyal and truthful to Nobunaga.
Nobunaga would often give Ranmaru little tests out of boredom and would become pleased when he excelled. One such test was that Nobunaga once ordered Ranmaru to close a window which was already closed as a joke, and he was surprised when Ranmaru opened and closed the window without complaint. (This was due to Ranmaru being aware that other servants might overhear Nobunaga’s order and believe him to be ignorant due to the window being closed. Opening and closing it made it sound like it had always been open.) Another similar story is of Nobunaga guessing that a bowl with oranges sitting on a table would fall. The bowl was too far from the edge so his guess was way off, but Ranmaru allegedly kicked the table and sent the bowl flying. When asked why, he said it was because Nobunaga had wanted it to fall so he complied.
Due to his extreme loyalty, Nobunaga awarded Ranmaru two major cities and actually gave him a land which had been in the Mori family before but was now under Akechi Mitsuhide’s control. (This action infuriated Mitsuhide and is attributed often to a cause of the Honnoji incident). The story to this being that Nobunaga was in a good mood one morning and asked Ranmaru what he would like as a gift. When the boy said nothing, Nobunaga asked him to write a wish on a piece of paper, as he would himself do, and if Nobunaga guessed his wish correctly, he would gift it to Ranmaru. They both wrote down the name of the land and Nobunaga, pleased that he had guessed correctly, promised to award it to him.
Additionally, there is another story of Nobunaga’s favorite blade. The blade had flower decorations, and Nobunaga often played a game where he asked people to guess the amount. Each person would guess incorrectly when asked, but Ranmaru never participated. When Nobunaga asked why, Ranmaru admitted to counting the flowers once, so he believed it would be unfair if he played along. Nobunaga was so taken by his honesty that he awarded the sword to Ranmaru and praised him.
As well as being a vassal to Nobunaga, Ranmaru was also Nobunaga’s “lover” of sorts. A common practice in the Sengoku Era was the practice of Shudo. In this practice, a young boy would apprentice under a samurai in exchange for a relationship sexual in nature. It is heavily proven that Ranmaru held this relationship with Nobunaga (as well as Maeda Toshiie and other samurai) and quickly became Nobunaga’s favorite. Nobunaga was actually said to have three favorite things in the whole world and Mori Ranmaru was one of them. (In addition, Nobunaga has been credited to taking many lovers who did not last long, but his relationship with Ranmaru never wavered as far as historians can see.)
Asides from his affair with Nobunaga, Ranmaru is also recognized for his relationships with other lords. One lord being Toyotomi Hideyoshi, one of the three unifiers of Japan, who was originally a peasant. This proved a huge issue for said Lord as he served under the Oda clan. Many samurai born into the caste looked down at him for his outside origins, but Ranmaru allegedly treated Hideyoshi with reverence. The two were said to be great friends and acquaintances, and Ranmaru was well liked by Hideyoshi and trusted.
Unfortunately, the same can not be said for Akechi Mitsuhide. According to historians, Akechi Mitsuhide and Ranmaru did not get along. Mitsuhide became very resentful and jealous of Nobunaga’s favoritism of Ranmaru and the two had a very rocky relationship.
Another hugely acclaimed feature of Ranmaru is his death.
Mori Ranmaru died in the Honnoji incident on June 21st, 1582. This event was spurred by Akechi Mitsuhide betraying Nobunaga and leading an army to attack the Honnoji temple where Nobunaga resided with the battle cry of, “The enemy is at Honnoji!”
Allegedly, Mori Ranmaru was the person to awaken Nobunaga and warn him of the coming danger. Nobunaga, realizing that his end was near, asked Ranmaru how old he was. When Ranmaru replied with his young age, Nobunaga bitterly admitted that he was sorry he would not live to see him become a man. He later asked Ranmaru to secure the door and to not let anyone enter with the words, “Ran-don’t let them in!”
Once the door was secured, Nobunaga ordered Ranmaru to assist him in ritualistic suicide (Seppuku) and afterwords made Ranmaru promise that he would escape from Mitsuhide and live a long life. Ranmaru promised to do so and helped Nobunaga die.
After his Lord’s death, Ranmaru broke his promise of living and committed Seppuku as well in order to remain loyal to his master.
Today, Ranmaru is regarded by historians as one of the most loyal characters in history, and his name is not used in Japan to name a child as it is believed to be too great. (Due to his alleged good looks, many Japanese people believe it to be a sign of arrogance for a parent to name his son for a word now used to convey beauty.)
Thus, even centuries after his death, Ranmaru remains a huge figure in Japanese history.