Battle of Honkoku Temple


Ashikaga Clan

Honkoku Temple


Miyoshi Clan

Date:  1/5 to 1/6 of Eiroku 12 (1569)

Location:  Honkoku Temple in Rokujō near the Shimogyō area of Kyōto

Synopsis:  Several months after Ashikaga Yoshiaki was formally appointed to serve as the fifteenth shōgun of the Muromachi bakufu,  members of the Miyoshi clan who backed his predecessor, Ashikaga Yoshihide, led an army of as many as 10,000 soldiers to launch attacks in Kyōto which included the Honkoku Temple serving as a base for Yoshiaki.  Despite fierce fighting, the bakufu army under the command of Yoshiaki held the temple for the first day.  On the second day, reinforcements for the shōgun forces attacked and pursued the Miyoshi forces, resulting in many deaths and a loss for the Miyoshi.

Shōgun:  Ashikaga Yoshiaki

Commanders:  Hosokawa Fujikata, Akechi Mitsuhide, Miyoshi Yoshitsugu, Hosokawa Fujitaka, Itami Chikaoki, Ikeda Katsumasa, Araki Murashige

Forces:  2,000 in the temple (number of reinforcements unknown)

Losses:  Unknown

Commanders:  Miyoshi Masayasu, Miyoshi Nagayasu, Iwanari Tomomichi, Miyoshi Yasunaga, Saitō Tatsuoki, Ogasawara Nobusada

Forces:  10,000

Losses:  Uncertain but including Ogasawara Nobusada

The Battle of Honkoku Temple occurred on 1/5 to 1/6 of Eiroku 12 (1569) at the Honkoku Temple in Rokujō in the environs of Shimogyō.  This battle ensued after the Miyoshi Group of Three (Miyoshi Nagayasu, Miyoshi Sōi, and Iwanari Tomomichi) attacked Ashikaga Yoshiaki (the fifteenth shōgun of the Muromachi bakufu) while he was taking refuge at the Honkoku Temple.  This is also known as the Honkoku Temple Incident or the Battle of Rokujō.  Highlighting the instability of this period, this battle marked the second time in less than four years that the Miyoshi Group of Three sought to eliminate the individual who, as the shōgun, held the highest rank in Japan as the head of the bakufu and the military families governing the country.


In the fifth month of 1565, Ashikaga Yoshiteru, the thirteenth shōgun was killed by the Miyoshi Group of Three in the Eiroku Incident.  Thereafter, the leadership of the Miyoshi family came into conflict with Matsunaga Hisahide leading clashes across the Kinai region, preventing the Group of Three from consolidating power.  The Group of Three backed Ashikaga Yoshihide as the next shōgun.  Yoshihide vied for the position against his younger brother, Ashikaga Yoshiaki, but the Group of Three blocked Yoshiaki from entering Kyōto.  In the second month of 1568, Yoshihide became the fourteenth shōgun of the Muromachi bakufu.

During this period, Yoshiaki sought help from assorted daimyō in the surrounding provinces and proactively mediated the settlement of conflicts that impeded his progress.  Meanwhile, Yoshiaki was accompanied by six of the eight members of the group of magistrates who managed the affairs of the bakufu.  Moreover, Yoshihide himself suffered from illness (a tumor) so could not move to Kyōto.  This interfered with his ability to govern as a shōgun in a bakufu with the Group of Three.  In the eighth month of 1566, Oda Nobunaga of Owari Province came to Kyōto in support of Yoshiaki, but, while en route, the Oda incurred an attack by Saitō Tatsuoki of Mino Province despite a purported understanding with Tatsuoki to permit Yoshiaki’s march to Kyōto, thereby stalling the plan.  It is surmised that the Group of Three had a role in preventing this march.  Yoshiaki then reached out to the Wakasa-Takeda clan and the Asakura clan of Echizen for support to march upon the capital, but neither of these worked out.  Meanwhile, the next year, the Oda clan attacked Mino and, in the autumn of 1568, conducted  a subsequent march to Kyōto with the aim of installing Yoshiaki as the next shōgun.  The Group of Three, along with Miyoshi Yasunaga and Shinohara Nagafusa, could not stop them.  Once Yoshiaki and Nobunaga entered the base of the Miyoshi clan at Akutagawayama Castle in Settsu, the opposition forces retreated to Awa Province in Shikoku.

While Yoshiaki stayed in Akutagawa, Nobunaga recognized the governance of designated provinces by daimyō who had surrendered in those locales, including Ikeda Katsumasa and Itami Chikaoki in Settsu and Miyoshi Yoshitsugu and Hatakeyama Takamasa in Kawachi.  Further, owing to Matsunaga Hisahide’s support for Yoshiaki and his continued resistance toward the Group of Three, Nobunaga permitted Hisahide to govern Yamato provided that Hisahide could consolidate control of the province.  These actions were consistent with a policy of Nobunaga known as isshiki-shihai to leverage daimyō and similar persons of authority who surrendered by allowing them to continue governing in the locales where they had the most knowledge and connections subject to their allegiance to the Oda.

After Yoshiaki’s army departed from the encampment in Settsu, on 10/14, the forces went to the Honkoku Temple in Rokujō, while the Oda army entered the Kiyomizu Temple in eastern Kyōto.  At this time, the Honkoku Temple was located outside of the southwest corner of the Shimogyō area, on expansive grounds approximately six hectares from north to south and two hectares from east to west.  Having been rebuilt after a prolonged period of conflict between members of rival religious factions known as the Hokke Uprising (from 1532 to 1547), the temple grounds were encircled by moats and embankments for protection.  Prior to Yoshiaki’s arrival, Nobunaga ordered retainers to build additional embankments.  The Honkoku Temple served as the head temple of the Rokujō branch of the Nichiren sect and center of worship for the machishū, or wealthy merchants and craftsmen of Kyōto.  At its peak, over 100 minor temples stood near the main temple with several thousand believers living inside the temple grounds.  The temple was protected by the Miyoshi clan, and Matsunaga Hisahide, an almsgiver to the temple, supported Yoshiaki, so it was a desirable location to station Yoshiaki’s troops.

In this period, there was a formal ceremony by which the Emperor appointed the supreme shōgun to serve as the head of the central authority of military families governing civil society via the bushi class of families.  On 10/16, Yoshiaki, accompanied by a small contingent, moved to the residence of the Hosokawa-Keichō family in the Kamigyō area of Kyōto.  Nobunaga also entered the house for servants of the Hosokawa.  Ashikaga Yoshihide (Yoshiaki’s younger cousin), who had been backed by the Group of Three as the fourteenth shōgun, had been removed from his position as of 9/30, and, although the date is uncertain, died during the ninth or tenth month.

Having no more barriers to Yoshiaki’s ascension, on 10/18, he was appointed as the supreme shōgun.   On 10/22, he was permitted to visit the Emperor’s residence, formalizing his appointment.  Meanwhile, after assuring himself that the Kinai region was stable and Yoshiaki had assumed the role, Nobunaga returned to Gifu.  On 10/29, Yoshiaki moved his quarters to the Honnō Temple in the Shimogyō area of Kyōto.

Course of events

On 12/24, Matsunaga Hisahide went to Gifu to make a courtesy visit to Nobunaga.  The Miyoshi Group of Three took advantage of his absence to take action.  On 12/28, with Saitō Tatsuoki (the former lord of Mino Province) in the vanguard, they toppled Ebara Castle in Izumi Province to the south of the harbor town of Sakai.  Ebara Castle was defended by Miyoshi Yoshitsugu, a retainer of the shōgun.  Next, on 1/2 of Eiroku 12 (1569), the Group of Three left Sakai and headed toward Kyōto.  On 1/4, after setting-up a camp in the environs of the Tōfuku Temple, on 1/5, the forces set fire to Shōgun-jizōyama Castle which served as a refuge for the shōgun in case of emergency.  The forces then set fire to other sites in the eastern and central portions of the capital, severing the shōgun’s route of retreat.

Yoshiaki responded by preparing to hole-up in the Honkoku Temple.  On 1/5, the clashes erupted around noon after the Group of Three attacked with over 10,000 troops (in other accounts, the number is placed between 5,000 and 8,000 troops).  The bakufu army under the direct command of the shōgun, in addition to retainers of Nobunaga and the Wakasa-Takeda clan, totaling 2,000 soldiers engaged desperately in a defensive battle.  Vanguard forces of the Miyoshi led by Yakushiji Sadaharu engaged in ferocious fighting against Wakasa-Takeda forces including Yamagata Morinobu and Uno Yashichi but, after numerous attempts, were unable to break into the temple grounds.  As evening approached, the Group of Three pulled back their troops.  Over twenty of the ashigaru, or foot soldiers, fighting for the shōgun were killed in battle, but the attackers incurred many wounded or killed as well.  Akechi Mitsuhide, a senior commander of Nobunaga who, years later, plotted the coup d’état that resulted in the death of Nobunaga, also fought on the side of the shōgun.  This marked the advent of Mitsuhide in historical accounts.

As reinforcements of the shōgun, Hosokawa Fujitaka, Miyoshi Yoshitsugu from northern Kawachi, and Ikeda and Itami forces from Settsu arrived, and, on 1/6, attacked the Miyoshi forces from three sides.  Troops defending the Honkoku Temple acted in concert by charging out to attack.  On the defensive, the Miyoshi forces attempted to retreat but were pursued.  The battle extended to the shores of the Katsura River, resulting in the defeat of the Miyoshi.  A guest commander named Ogasawara Nobusada along with many others were killed in action.  The Shinchō kōki references only six heads for inspection and the killing of notables, but the range in other sources is from over 800 to over 2,700 killed.


On 1/6, Nobunaga received an urgent message at Gifu.  Despite a large snowfall, Nobunaga and Matsunaga Hisahide departed with a small unit of less than ten mounted soldiers, and, on 1/10, arrived at the Honkoku Temple.  The Group of Three, however, had already withdrawn.  Owing to the rapid departure from Gifu and severe cold, several of the porters accompanying them died of exposure to the weather.

Although Nobunaga was satisfied with the reinforcements made to the Honkoku Temple, he concluded that the shōgun residence needed a structure with restricted entry.  He then expanded the former site of Yoshiteru’s Nijō Palace and personally oversaw the construction of the Nijō Castle on grounds that were approximately three hectares from east to west and three hectares from north to south located between the Kamigyō and Shimogyō areas of the capital.  This new castle made extensive use of stone walls, double moats, and several smaller castles projecting from a three-story inner citadel.  Residences for retainers including members of the hōkōshū, or military forces under the direct control of the shōgun, were positioned in the outer areas of the castle grounds, representing a modern approach to design of the castle.  Many of the buildings originated from the Honkoku Temple after being dismantled and then reassembled at the new location.  This caused monks at the temple to seek help from Matsunaga Hisahide to persuade Nobunaga not to move the structures but they were refused on the basis this was not an option.  After 1,500 of the Hokke followers contributed a great amount of goods to Nobunaga, as well as desired funds, they further appealed to the shōgun and Emperor, but Nobunaga did not concern himself with these appeals.

Historical accounts

According to the account of Luís Fróis, a Portuguese missionary residing in Japan during this period, the residence of Yoshiaki’s mother, Keijuin (who took her own life in the Eiroku Incident) was, with the permission of Matsunaga Hisahide, dismantled and reconstructed on the grounds of the Honkoku Temple.  When Yoshiaki and his retainers came to Kyōto, he quickly decided to reside in this location.  Yoshiaki continued to reside here until the attack by the Miyoshi Group of Three.  Based on another account, from 10/14 to 10/16, Yoshiaki entered the late Hosokawa residence at the Honkoku Temple.  At the end of the tenth month, he moved to the Honnō Temple.  On 12/14, Yamashina Tokitsugu visited Yoshiaki at the Honnō Temple.  On 12/21, magistrates of the bakufu issued instructions to the Honnō Temple to the effect that while lodging by troops was frequently banned, after transfer of the residence for Yoshiaki, these prohibitions would be even more stringently enforced.  According to another account, prior to the assault by the Miyoshi Group of Three, Yoshiaki moved to the Honkoku Temple because soldiers could not stay at the Honnō Temple.  While Yoshiaki was absent from the Honnō Temple, the troops from the bakufu army who would could not enter there are surmised to have been stationed at the Honkoku Temple.  Yoshiaki chose the Honnō Temple as a base owing to its convenience for meeting people and conducting work, and, he could reside there with a small contingent that did not require armaments, indicating that daily life in the capital was tranquil at that time.

According to another account, resident monks from the Hokke school of the Nichiren sect warned that a continuation of attacks could lead to the destruction of the Honkoku Temple where the Miyoshi clan worshiped for generations, so Yoshiaki should move to another location to protect the temple from further attacks.  The Group of Three responded by withdrawing to the Konkō Temple also in the Shimogyō area of the capital.  This argument was said to be a ploy based on information that, the next day, reinforcements for Yoshiaki’s forces would come on the attack.