Akechi Mitsuhide (明智 光秀, March 10, 1528 – July 17, 1582), first called Jūbei from his clan and later Koretō Hyūga no Kami (惟任日向守) from his title, was a samurai and general who lived during the Sengoku period of Feudal Japan. His full name was thus Akechi Jūbei Minamoto-no-Mitsuhide (明智 十兵衛 源の光秀).Mitsuhide was a general under daimyō Oda Nobunaga, although he became famous for his rebellion against Nobunaga in 1582, which led to Nobunaga’s death at Honnō-ji.
EARLY LIFE AND RISE
He was born in Tara castle, Mino Province-now Gifu Prefecture Mitsuhide is a descendant of the Toki-Akechi family of the shugo Toki clan. Mitsuhide is rumored to be a childhood friend or cousin of Nōhime. It is believed that he was raised to be a general among 10,000 by Saitō Dōsan and the Toki clan during their governorship of the Mino province. When Dōsan’s son, Saitō Yoshitatsu, rebelled against his father in 1556, Mitsuhide sided with Dōsan.
Mitsuhide began serving the “wandering shogun” Ashikaga Yoshiaki as one of his guardians under Hosokawa Yusai. Shogun Ashikaga ordered Asakura Yoshikage to be his official protector, an offer which Yoshikage declined. Yoshiaki appealed to Mitsuhide, who suggested Oda Nobunaga instead.
In 1564, Nobunaga sent his sister Oichi to be the bride of Azai Nagamasa. This aided him in his 1566 conquest for Mino province, and opened the path to Kyoto. The shogun Yoshiaki and Mitsuhide arrived at Kyoto, the capital of Japan, converting Hongoku-ji temple to a temporary palace in November 1568. Nobunaga returned from Kyoto on January 4, 1569. The Miyoshi clan and Saito Tatsuoki defeated the daimyo of Mino, and attacked Ashikaga Yoshiaki at Hongoku-ji, where Mitsuhide successfully defended the Shogun. Nobunaga asked Mitsuhide to join his troops and Mitsuhide decided to serve both the Shogun and Nobunaga.
INCIDENT AT HONNO-JI
In 1579, Nobunaga captured Yakami Castle from Hatano Hideharu by promising Hideharu peace terms; however, Nobunaga betrayed the peace agreement and had Hideharu executed. This reputedly displeased the Hatano family, and a short while later several of Hideharu’s retainers murdered Akechi Mitsuhide’s mother (or aunt). The failing relationship between Nobunga and Mitsuhide was further fueled through several public insults which Nobunaga directed at Mitsuhide.
In 1582, Mitsuhide was ordered to march west and assist Hashiba Hideyoshi who was currently fighting the Mōri clan. Ignoring his orders, Mitsuhide assembled an army of 13,000 soldiers and moved against Nobunaga’s position at Honnō-ji. On June 21, Mitsuhide was quoted as saying, “The enemy is at Honnō-ji!”. His army surrounded the temple and eventually set it on fire. Oda Nobunaga was killed either during the fighting, or by his own hand. Nobunaga’s son, Oda Nobutada, fled the scene, but was surrounded at Nijō and killed. Despite not killing Nobunaga personally, Mitsuhide claimed responsibility for his death.
THE BATTLE OF YAMAZAKI
Mitsuhide’s betrayal of the Oda shocked the capital, and he was forced to move quickly to secure his position. Mitsuhide, claiming lineage from the Toki and thus the Minamoto clan, declared himself Shogun, and looted Azuchi castle to reward his men and maintain their loyalty.
Mitsuhide attempted to make gestures of friendship to a panicked Imperial Court; he also made many attempts to win over the other clans, but to no avail. Hosokawa Fujitaka, to whom he was related through marriage, quickly cut ties with him; Tsutsui Junkei, who previously had a rocky relationship with the Oda, sided against him.
Mitsuhide had counted on Toyotomi Hideyoshi being detained fighting with the Mori, and unable to respond to Mitsuhide’s coup d’état. However, having learned of the assassination of his lord, Hideyoshi quickly signed a peace treaty with the Mori, and alongside Tokugawa Ieyasu rushed to be the first to avenge Nobunaga and take his place.
Mitsuhide took up a position south of Shōryūji Castle, securing his right flank by the Yodo river, and his left at the foot of the 270-metre Tennozan. Hideyoshi immediately seized the advantage by securing the heights of Tennōzan; his vanguard then maneuvered to face the Akechi forces along the Enmyōji river. Mitsuhide’s forces made a failed attempt to force Hideyoshi from Tennōzan. Hideyoshi’s general, Ikeda Nobuteru moved to reinforce Hideyoshi’s right flank, which soon crossed Enmyōji-gawa and turned the Akechi flank. Simultaneously, Hideyoshi’s forces marched against the Akechi front; this started a rout, only two hours after the battle had begun.
Mitsuhide’s reign as shogun lasted only 13 days. Upon leaving Yamazaki, Mitsuhide died en route to Sakamoto.
The short reign of Mitsuhide is listed as the inspiration for the yojijukugo set phrase mikkatenka (三日天下, short-lived reign).
REASONS FOR BETRAYAL
No one knows the specific reason that Mitsuhide betrayed Nobunaga, though there are several theories:
- Personal ambition – Mitsuhide had grown tired of waiting for promotion under Nobunaga or had grown tired of being under another’s authority.
- A personal grudge:
- During the battle at Yagami Castle, 1575, Mitsuhide’s mother died for Nobunaga’s cause.
- Nobunaga accused Mitsuhide of superficially praising his allies after their victory over the Takeda and physically kicked him.
- While staying at Azuchi Castle, Tokugawa Ieyasu complained about the food he was served. Nobunaga responded by throwing Mitsuhide’s priceless dinnerware into the garden pond.
- Nobunaga had asked him to – a legend states that Nobunaga asked Mitsuhide to strike him down if he were ever to become too ruthless, and the Incident at Honnō-ji is Mitsuhide fulfilling this promise.
- Betrayal by Hosokawa Fujitaka – Fujitaka, Mitsuhide’s son-in-law, was said to have promised aid to Mitsuhide but in actuality was reporting the plot to Hideyoshi.
- He was asked to – one theory is that he was asked or influenced to betray Nobunaga by Mōri Terumoto, Tokugawa Ieyasu, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Ashikaga Yoshiaki, Nōhime, Esam Abunaga, the Shimazu clan or Emperor Ogimachi.
- Protecting the Imperial Court. One theory supposed Nobunaga may have abolished the Imperial Court in Kyoto, when he no longer needed it. Akechi Mitsuhide, who was before his treason seen as an honorable samurai, and had been a retainer to both Nobunaga and the Ashikaga Shogunate, asked his lord to guarantee the safety and honorific position of the Court, or at least for the Emperor. Nobunaga who was a fearless daredevil and had the habit of not expressing himself very clearly (because of spies and other traitors, he acted this way because his generals knew him the best and were thus able to understand his will) may have allowed uncertainty to persist regarding his plans for the Court. Then Mitsuhide doubted Nobunaga, and slew him to protect the Emperor and Japan’s History.
- Dairokuten Mao’ō (Demon King of the Six Heavens, or Mara of the Sixth Heaven of the Desire Realm) was a title bestowed by the shocked people of Japan over Nobunaga’s many abuses and tyrannical rule, and he himself used it to mock his opponents. In Buddhist interpretations of Shuten Dōji’s tale, the Oni overlord Shuten Dōji was also regarded as the incarnation of Dairokuten Maō, while Emperor Ichijō was considered an avatar of Miroku Bosatsu (Maitreya) and the demon slaying hero Minamoto no Yorimitsu as an avatar of Daiitoku Myōō (Yamantaka). In the fourth generation, a descendant of Raikō, Minamoto-no-Mitsunobu, came to the district of Mino where he took the name of Toki. The Toki clan was his descendant, and Mitsuhide through them, or so he may have believed himself. Thus, combined with various reasons (protecting the Imperial Court, protecting Buddhism, seeking glory and wealth, personal discontent…), Mitsuhide decided to slay the demon king Nobunaga. Coincidentally, Nobunaga burned Hiei-zan the sacred mountain of Buddhism, which was previously the lair of Shuten Dōji, which he fled for Ōe-yama out of his hatred for Buddhism and the monk Saichō who just built his temple there.
- Tsumaki Hiroko (Ja:妻木煕子): Wife
- Akechi Mitsuyoshi (明智光慶): Eldest son
- Akechi Hidemitsu (明智秀満): Adopted son (and son-in-law); ancestor of Sakamoto Ryōma
- Hosokawa Gracia (明智玉子): Daughter, wife of Hosokawa Tadaoki; ancestor of Empress Shōken
- Akechi Mitsuharu (明智光春): Cousin
The Akechi family was able to trace their heritage to the Toki clan and from there to the Minamoto clan. It is noted that Minamoto no Yoritomo brought the destruction of the Taira clan the same way Mitsuhide brought an end to Nobunaga, who traces his ancestry to the Taira clan. The sword of Mitsuhide is of the Tensho style; the Tensho Koshirae was first designed to be a replica of Akechi Mitsuhide’s own sword.
IN POPULAR CULTURE
See People of the Sengoku period in popular culture.
- In Sengoku Basara games and anime, he was described as a psychotic, sadist and bloodthirsty warrior armed with scythes. Later, he dons the name Tenkai, but retained his sadistic behavior under the benevolent disguise.
- Samurai Warriors, a video games created by Koei’s Omega Force team.
- Kessen III, a video games created by Koei.
- Mitsuhide appears as a character in Kouta Hirano’s Drifters, siding with the Ends in the war against the Drifters in hopes of killing Nobunaga, who was spirited away to the unknown realm during the incident at Honnō-ji temple.