One of the most short-lived warriors of feudal Japan was Ishida Mitsunari. He was born in the late 1500s and was a samurai and military commander during the Sengoku period.
One of the most unforgettable memories of the minds of those who study Japanese history was Ishida Mitsunari’s participation as a commander during the Battle of Sekigahara. This was during the Azuchi-Momoyama period of the 16th century.
He was acknowledged in court and was given the title Jibu-no-sho. This covetable title refers to being recognized as the head of the Ministry of Ceremonies that governs the affairs of the Imperial Court of Japan in Kyoto. In laymen’s term, this position was simply the Ministry of Interiors.
Early Years of Ishida Mitsunari Life
He was born in Ishida Village at Omi Province which is present-day Nagahama City in Shiga Prefecture. As a child, he was given the name Sakichi. If legend can be trusted, he was serving as a Buddhist temple monk before being recruited to serve under Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1578.
The legend that he was a Buddhist monk became popular only during the Edo period. He was only 13 years old when Toyotomi Hideyoshi ran across him while busy on his military training exercises.
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He won the favor of Toyotomi Hideyoshi due to him being an excellent financial manager, and he was also considered as a good master of the tea ceremony.
Historians reveal that veterans of the war were not satisfied with Mitsunari’s leadership skills on the battlefield. He was even viewed as a villain and should not be characterized as having positive traits, deeming him worthy of Hideyoshi’s approval.
Ishida Mitsunari: Chief Advisor to His Master
Before becoming an advisor to Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Mitsunari met him while he was young and Hideyoshi was still a Daimyo of Nagahama. It was business acuity in securing additional lands for Toyotomi Hideyoshi that made him an asset to his military lord.
He assisted Toyotomi in attacking castles like Takamatsu and Tottori. However, his skills shined most at making calculations; this led him to become one of the most talented and skilled financial managers of Hideyoshi.
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Ishida Mitsunari: Role of an Administrator
Throughout his career, Ishida Mitsunari was viewed more as a property administrator than a warrior. He took upon the role of administrator over Sakai with Ishida Masazumi, his older brother.
He was regarded as one of the top administrators (Nugyo) of Hideyoshi’s government and was known as one of the five Bugyo of that time. As a Daimyo, Mitsunari was in charge of Sawayama in Omi Province, which was a 500,000 Koku fief.
The Sawayama Castle that Ishida Mitsunari stayed in was considered as a well-fortified feudal Japanese castle of its time. This was an important stronghold of the Omi Province, and the Azai clan was responsible for this castle during the Sengoku Period.
However, Ishida Mitsunari took charge of this castle after the demise of the Azai clan. This was also protected by the brother of Mitsunari, Ishida Masazumi, who defended the castle from the attack by Kobayakawa Hideaki.
The castle was eventually occupied by li Naomasa but he later destroyed this to move into another castle which was Hikone Castle.
Ishida Mitsunari’s Records of Accomplishments
Ishida Mitsunari was known as a leader in control over Hideyoshi’s government affairs and is considered as having an unbending character. And although he had numerous friends during the period, he had some issues and concerns with other Daimyo.
Mitsunari was also given the negative distinction that due to his failure in the Battle of Sekigahara, he allowed the Tokugawa clan to be left as an unchallenged ruler in the country.
Despite this, Mitsunari focused on performing other functions like marriages, genealogies, funeral rites and a lot more. He also promoted theater and music as a form of entertainment during his time as a Jibu Shosuke or a principal commissioner
Repercussions of Sekigahara Battle
Ishida Mitsunari is best known in history as being in charge of the Western Army at Sekigahara. Traditionally speaking, Ishida Mitsunari did not leave behind a legacy for other warriors to follow since he lost against Tokugawa.
He created a sound-proof strategy on how to lead Ieyasu into a valley where he would use his tactics that would make him fall on both sides.
Ishida Mitsunari positioned some of his men on the eastern edge of the valley, while some were stationed on high ground on the south. However, Ishida’s coalition was unstable, and upon defeat, he attempted to escape yet was caught by the villagers.
Mitsunari, including other Daimyo of the Western army, such as Ankokuji Enkei and Konishi Yukinaga, were all executed. After this, Ishida’s head was set on a stand for all the people of Kyoto to see. His remains were buried in a sub-temple of Datoku-ji in Kyoto.
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Ishida Mitsunari: Life as a Bureaucrat
He was considered to be a weakling as a bureaucrat. However, this image of failure did not last long since historians took of Mitsunari’s other talents such as being a great planner and gaining victory on the battlefield.
Mitsunari’s role was important to Japan’s future when his liege died. He was faithful to the Toyotomi clan, and as a faithful follower, he swore to protect Hideyori who was Hideyoshi’s son. This earned him the ire of Tokugawa Ieyasu who was then a major contender of the Shogunate.
Theory about His Cause of Death
A floating theory is that he was given a pardon by Ieyasu and in his mercy, hid him. Yet for political reasons, he was removed from his lands and came to live with one of Ieyasu’s veteran generals named Sakakibara Yasumasa.
He stayed with the general until Ishida Mitsunari died of old age. The cause of death, according to this theory, was not as traumatic as the one previously mentioned.
Fictional Character of Ishida Mitsunari
Ishida Mitsunari inspired some fictional characters such as one based on James Clavell’s novel, Shogun. There was even a 1980s TV mini-series adaptation of his character, and this was portrayed by the actor Nobuo Kaneko.
The latest version is a movie called Sekigahara. In this movie, Here, Mitsunari is seen as the main character who was dismayed at Hideyoshi for killing his heir and regent. Additionally, Hideyoshi also recruited allies interested to rule with justice.
In this particular movie, Tokugawa was portrayed as a schemer. His character was given a twist, thus, Ishida Mitsunari was seen as a modern type of ruler who was greatly ahead of his time.
Image Source: 宇治主水 [Public domain]