Lifespan: Kyōroku 2 (1529) to 7/16 of Bunroku 5 (1596)
Other Names: Hachizō, Sakujūrō, Sakuzaemon, Onisakuza (nickname)
Lord: Tokugawa Ieyasu
Father: Honda Shigemasa
Siblings: Shigetomi, Shigetsugu, Shigeharu
Wife: Daughter of Torii Tadayoshi
Honda Shigetsugu served as a bushō during the Sengoku and Azuchi-Momoyama periods. He was a retainer of the Tokugawa clan.
In 1529, Shigetsugu was born as the son of Honda Shigemasa. Known as obstinate and temperamental, he was nicknamed Onisakuza.
Shigetsugu served Tokugawa Ieyasu, the sengoku daimyō of Mikawa Province. Together with Amano Yasukage and Kōriki Kiyonaga, Shigetsugu was one of the Three Commissioners of Mikawa, exercising his abilities in administrative affairs. After being chosen to serve as a magistrate, everyone was surprised that he did nothing unjust, was not preferential, and swiftly executed affairs in a straightforward manner.
Shigetsugu also served as a bushō. In 1558, he made contributions at the Siege of Terabe Castle – the first experience in battle for Matsudaira Motoyasu (later known as Tokugawa Ieyasu). His younger brother, Honda Shigeharu, died in this battle. During uprisings by followers of the Ikkō sect affiliated with the Ishiyama-Hongan Temple known as the Mikawa Ikkō-ikki from 1563 to 1564, he offered a written pledge to change his status as an adherent of the group and participated in numerous battles. During the Conquest of Odawara, he solicited Mukai Masatsuna and together they intercepted and defeated the Hōjō navy led by Kajiwara Kagemune.
Following the Conquest of Odawara, when Ieyasu moved to the former territory of the Hōjō clan in the Kantō, he was ordered by Ieyasu (acting upon orders of Toyotomi Hideyoshi) to be confined to Koido in Kazusa Province with a fief of 3,000 koku. Thereafter, he was moved and confined in Ino in the Sōma District of Shimōsa Province. There are various theories regarding the reason for his confinement. Shigetsugu frequently angered Toyotomi Hideyoshi, including:
(i) After Shigetsugu’s son, Senchiyo (later known as Honda Narishige), and Ieyasu’s second son, Ogimaru (later known as Yūki Hideyasu), were tendered as hostage to Hideyoshi, Shigetsugu later called Senchiyo back on the pretext that he wanted him to tend to his ill mother.
(ii) In 1586, Hideyoshi’s mother, Ōmandokoro, went to Okazaki as recognition for Ieyasu pledging loyalty to Hideyoshi and traveling to the capital. Ōmandokoro planned to pay a visit to check-in on a dowager of Ieyasu named Asahihime (the younger sister of Hideyoshi of a different father). Shigetsugu proceeded to stockpile firewood around the residence where Ōmandokoro lodged so that, in case of an incident during Ieyasu’s visit to the capital, they could set fire to it. This act significantly harmed Hideyoshi’s impression of him.
(iii) During an offensive in Odawara, Hideyoshi stopped by Okazaki Castle and planned to meet with Shigetsugu but Shigetsugu did not respond which displeased Hideyoshi.
On 7/16 of Bunroku 5 (1596), Shigetsugu died at the age of sixty-eight. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Honda Narishige, who became a daimyō and the first lord of the Echizen-Maruoka domain.
Character and anecdotes
Rough in his disposition, Shigetsugu did not hesitate to scorn Ieyasu. He also demonstrated military prowess. There is a legend that, in the course of the Battle of Mikatagahara during which the Tokugawa army suffered a major defeat, Shigetsugu found himself surrounded by several tens of enemy soldiers thrusting spears at him. He then pulled down one of the enemy soldiers from his horse, slayed him, and fled with the horse back to Hamamatsu Castle.
In regard to the personality of Shigetsugu, Arai Hakuseki, a hatamoto and politician from the Edo period, noted “Shigetsugu appeared frightful, said whatever he wanted, and did not appear the type of person to serve as a magistrate, but he was sincere, considerate toward civilians, and plainly addressed many claims.”
In addition to being blind in one eye, he is said to have lost one leg and fingers from wounds.
Oman (Chōshōin), a consort and mother of Ieyasu’s second son, Yūki Hideyasu, served as a court lady for Ieyasu’s formal wife known as Tsukiyama-dono. After making her pregnant with Hideyasu, Ieyasu feared he would incite the jealousy of Tsukiyama-dono so he had Shigetsugu arrange accommodations for her and Hideyasu was born under cover in the residence of the Nakamura family.
In the third month of 1585, when Ieyasu became seriously ill with a tumor, Shigetsugu became frustrated with Iyasu’s unwillingness to undergo the treatment recommended by his physician and said: “Trying improvised and imprudent treatments will cause you to die in vain. This would be a regrettable life in view of what you aspire to do. In that case, I will say goodbye to this life ahead of you.” He then prepared to commit seppuku so Ieyasu gave in and underwent the treatment without incident.
The short note that read “Be careful of fire, do not make Osen cry, feed the horse” was written in a letter by Shigetsugu to his wife while on deployment at the Battle of Nagashino in 1575. This is famously known as the shortest letter in Japan. Osen was his young son and lineal heir, Senchiyo (later known as Honda Narishige).
Currently, there is a stone memorial to the short note at the Maruoka Castle. The city of Sakai in Fukui Prefecture (formed in 2005 from the towns of Maruoka, Mikuni, Harue, and Sakai) invites the submission of the shortest letters in Japan which custom was started in 1993 in the former town of Maruoka.
Shigetsugu was stubborn and viewed as stern with others but in this letter he showed concern for his only son, Senchiyo. He provided a glimpse of his kindness toward his wife and children in a letter to his wife who was managing affairs at home in his absence, stating “Be careful of fires, supervise the servants, and Senchiyo is the only son out of five children so make sure he does not get sick, and take care of the horse to which I will entrust my life on the battlefield.”
Later, Osenchiyo was tendered as a hostage to Hideyoshi and sent to Ōsaka to serve as an attendant to Yūki Hideyasu, an adopted son of Hideyoshi. The following year, Shigetsugu, acting on his accord without permission, replaced Osenchiyo with his nephew, Genshirō (later known as Honda Tomimasa). Theories for this act include that he was concerned about the well-being and the future of his son (Hideyasu was alienated from Ieyasu so his prospects were uncertain) or that he sought to promote his nephew by having him serve Hideyasu. This angered Hideyoshi who had Ieyasu order him confined to Koido in Kazusa with a fief of 3,000 koku. When Hideyasu became the first lord of the Echizen Kita-no-shō domain with a fief of 680,000 koku, Tomimasa (Genshirō) became an appointed chief retainer and was granted a fief of 39,000 koku. At the time, Narishige (Senchiyo) served as a retainer of the bakufu with a fief of 5,000 koku. In 1613, Narishige became an appointed chief retainer of Hideyasu’s son, Matsudaira Tadanao, and was granted a fief of 40,000 koku in Maruoka in Echizen. According to one theory, Shigetsugu observed the promotion of his nephew and then worked his own son into the Fukui domain. Although he was new to his role, his fief was slightly more than Tomimasa. Shigetsugu, however, died before Hideyasu was transferred to Echizen so the account does not appear valid.