Akechi Mitsuhide

Akechi Mitsuhide

Akechi Mitsuhide

If there is something that Akechi Mitsuhide is known for, it would be that he was once a retainer for Oda Nobunaga, and was also the cause of his lord’s death.

Akechi is from the Jubei clan and was once named Koreto Hyuga no Kami. His full name was Akechi Jubei Minamoto no Mitsuhide. He had this name taken from his official title as a samurai and general.

It was said that Mitsuhide may have been a childhood friend or cousin of Nohime, or Kicho, the legal wife of Oda Nobunaga.

His career as a samurai began when he served under Ashikaga Yoshiaki and worked as his guardian under Hosokawa Yusai.

The Shogun Ashikaga told Asakura Yoshikage to work as his official protector, however, Asakura declined the offer. With that, Ashikaga appealed to Akechi who then proposed Oda Nobunaga instead.

Akechi Mitsuhide’s Life with Oda Nobunaga

In the year 1564, Oda sent his sister, Oichi, to become the bride of Azai Nagamasa. This helped him in his conquest for the Mino Province, thus, opening the path to Kyoto.

The Shogun Yoshiaki and Akechi Mitsuhide both arrived in Kyoto to transform Hongoku-ji temple into a makeshift palace on November of the year 1568.

In the next year, Oda returned from Kyoto; the Miyoshi family, together with Saito Tatsuoki, were able to defeat the Daimyo of Mino then decided to attack Yoshiaki who was in Hongoku-ji.

Luckily, Mitsuhide was able to defend and protect the shogun, and upon seeing his skill and potential, Oda asked Akechi to join his ranks. Eventually Akechi Mitsuhide served both the Shogun and Oda.

Trusted Retainer

Oda rarely trusted his retainers; however, Akechi Mitsuhide was one of the three that he trusted greatly. The other two included Shibata Katsuie and Hashiba Hideyoshi. Among them, Oda gave the greatest reward to Mitsuhide by gifting him with a castle.

Aside from a castle, Mitsuhide was given Sakamoto, which is equivalent to 100,000 Koku or Kokudaka. He was also given Kameyama Castle, as well as Tanba Province which was 550,000 Koku.

This was more than just a huge financial reward when viewed from the Japanese feudal award system for agricultural land ownership. During this period, owning a large number of land equated to power, position and ranking.

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Kokudaka or sometimes simply known as Koku, uses the Japanese feudal agricultural and economic system to offer rewards to the Daimyo.

The basic measurement was a Koku of rice which represented the domain wealth of these Daimyo. It was taxable, and the tax was paid under the shogunate. It was Toyotomi Hideyoshi who formulated this standardized unit of measurement.

This system made it easier for lords to reward their loyal Daimyo, and being given a large domain means that they were important. In 1700, the entire Japanese archipelago was estimated to be around an equivalent of 25 million Koku.

Largest Landowners in the Mid-18th Century

  • Tokugawa shogunate. This Shogunate owns the largest land with approximately four million Koku. This was about 15% of the Shogunate’s land of that period.
  • Maeda Clan of Kaga Han. This was the second largest landowner in official Kokudaka, owning a million Koku.
  • Shimazu Clan of Satsuma Han. This was the third largest landowner that had about 770,000 Koku.
  • The Imperial Family, Major Temples and Groups. This group controlled about 500,000 Koku.
  • Hatamoto. Controlled about 10 percent.
  • The Daimyo. The remaining Koku was divided under this group.

Unfortunate Events at Honno-ji

In the year 1579, Oda was able to take Yakami Castle, and had promised peace terms with Hatano Hideharu. However, Oda betrayed this promise and instead, had Hatano executed.

This greatly displeased the Hatano clan; so to take revenge, they had their retainers murder the mother or aunt of Akechi. This event did not improve Oda and Akechi’s relationship, and this failing relationship and link was fueled further when Oda publicly insulted Akechi.

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Oda Nobunaga’s Death By Akechi Mitsuhide

Three years later in 1582, Akechi Mitsuhide was ordered to march west to fight alongside Hashiba Hideyoshi against the Mori Clan.

Instead of following Nobunaga’s orders, Mitsuhide assembled his 13,000 soldiers to surround Nobunaga in Honno-ji. He set the temple on fire but it was not clear whether Oda Nobunaga died fighting him, or if he died by Seppuku.

Seppuku was the honorable thing to do when captured by the enemy. Oda’s son, Oda Nobutada, attempted to escape the scene. However, he ended up being surrounded and died in Nijo.

Some historians did try to explain why he betrayed Nobunaga, and there are several schools of thought regarding this:

  • Mitsuhide was too ambitious for his own good. He was not happy with the way he was treated by Nobunaga that he has grown tired of living under the shadow of his former lord.
  • Personal grudge because of the death of his mother and holding a grudge for being publicly humiliated.
  • According to legends, it was Nobunaga who requested for Mitsuhide to strike him down if he became ruthless for his own good, and that killing Oda Nobunaga at Honno-ji was a promise kept.
  • In a bid to protect the Imperial Court from itself, Nobunaga planned to abolish it using Mitsuhide and his loyalty to him.

Akechi Mitsuhide: Betrayal of Trust

The incident that took place in Honno-ji shocked the capital, so Mitsuhide tried to control the situation by securing his position of power. He utilized Azuchi Castle as a loot to reward his men while simultaneously keeping their loyalty.

Mitsuhide tried to offer his gestures of friendship to win over the panicked Imperial Court. He also attempted to win over other clans but failed just as well.

For instance, Hosokawa Fujitaka who was related to Mitsuhide by marriage, immediately cut his ties with him.

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Attempted Peace Treaty Failed

Akechi Mitsuhide was counting on the support of Toyotomi Hideyoshi who was, during that time, occupied in a fight with the Mori Clan.

However, when Hideyoshi learned that Mitsuhide had assassinated his lord, he had a change of heart and instead, signed a peace treaty with the Mori clan. Hideyoshi sought the aid of Ieyasu, and both joined forces to avenge Oda Nobunaga and take his place.

This joint force marched on towards Settsu that caught Akechi Mitsuhide off guard. He was unable to acquire the support for his cause, and his army dropped to just 10,000 men.

For Hideyoshi, he successfully won over and gained the support of the former Oda retainers, and had the power of 20,000 men under him. These two forces met and faced each other at the Battle of Yamazaki.

Desperate Measures Of Akechi Mitsuhide

Akechi Mitsuhide met the oncoming army at Yamazaki which was located south of Kyoto. Thinking that this was an ideal location should the need arise for a retreat, he positioned himself and his men south of Shoryuji Castle.

Unfortunately, Hideyoshi was able to take control of the heights of Tennozan, where he let his troops maneuver to face Akechi’s forces by the Enmyoji river.

Akechi tried to force Hideyoshi into Tennozan, but kne of his generals acted immediately to reinforce the right flank of Hideyoshi which eventually crossed Enmyoji river to turn Akechi’s flanks.

Simultaneously, the growing forces of Hideyoshi marched towards the front of Akechi. This began a rout even just after two hours after the battle had started.

Death Comes to Akechi Mitsuhide

Akechi Mitsuhide’s reign did not last long. After placing himself in the position as Shogun over Nobunaga’s lands, he was killed while fleeing for his life during the Battle at Yamazaki. It was Nakamura Chobei, a bandit leader, who was responsible for putting an end to his life.

His reign was short lived that it was the source for the Japanese term Mikkatenka, which literally translates to short lived reign.

Akechi Mitsuhide was only able to rule what he considered his territory for 13 short days. He was left alone, labelled as a traitor even by those who were close to him.

Image Source: Utagawa Yoshiiku [Public domain]