Ankoku Temple (Aki)
Ankokuji Ekei served as a bushō and a priest engaged in diplomatic activities during the Sengoku and Azuchi-Momoyama periods. Ekei was a follower of the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism. As a Zen monk, he assumed the name of Yōho Ekei.
Ekei served as a priest-diplomat on behalf of the Mōri clan in negotiations with Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Later, in the Toyotomi administration, he was granted a fief by Hideyoshi. It is commonly believed he was also elevated to the status of a daimyō, but there are differing theories in this regard.
Ekei’s family was associated with the Aki-Takeda clan, but Ekei’s birth year and the identity of his father are uncertain. He was born in the Numata District of Aki Province either in 1537 or 1539, and his father may have been Takeda Nobushige (Mitsuhiro) or Nobushige’s father, Tomo Shigekiyo (also known as Takeda Shigekiyo).
Early years of his priesthood
In 1541, after the Aki-Takeda were eliminated following an attack by Mōri Motonari, retainers helped him escape to the Ankoku Temple in Aki where he entered the priesthood. Thereafter, he joined the Tōfuku Temple in Kyōto and became a disciple of Jikuun Eshin. Eshin maintained friendly relations with Mōri Takamoto, so, through this connection, Ekei came into contact with the Mōri. In 1574, he became the abbot at the Ankoku Temple in Aki, and, thereafter, served as the abbot at the Tōfuku Temple and Nanzen Temple, both in Kyōto. Ekei achieved the highest status as a priest in the principal temple for the Rinzai sect. In 1599, he contributed to the restoration of the Kennin Temple in Kyōto. He restored the Hōkō Temple and the Reisen Temple. He arranged for the dismantling and rebuilding of the Buddhist statue in the Ankoku Temple in Aki that was originally constructed by Ōuchi Yoshitaka for the Ryōun Temple in Yamaguchi in Suō Province.
Service as a retainer of the Mōri clan
Owing to the conversion of the Mōri to the teachings of Eshin, before long, Ekei became a priest-diplomat for the Mōri. In the Battle of Tafukuguchi with Ōtomo Yoshishige, Ekei could be seen around ordering, among other activities, the construction of a moat by the townspeople from Hakata over a period of seventy days. In battle against the Ōtomo family in 1568, Ekei joined the army, and engaged in public relations, encouraging local families of means to ally with the Mōri.
In the sixth month of 1571, Ekei carried a letter from Mōri Motonari to the capital of Kyōto requesting Ashikaga Yoshiaki, the shōgun of the Muromachi bakufu, to mediate peace negotiations with the Ōtomo, the Uragami, and the Miyoshi families. Yoshiaki, however, expressed unwillingness to conduct mediation with the Miyoshi, so the plans ended in failure. In 1572, Yoshiaki agreed to mediate a settlement with the Ōtomo and Uragami, excluding the Miyoshi. Ekei then traveled again to the capital and, in the autumn, succeeded in peace negotiations with the Ōtomo and Uragami clans.
In 1573, Oda Nobunaga ousted Yoshiaki whereupon he retreated to Biwa-no-shō, and then, through the assistance of Kennyo from the Hongan Temple, moved to the base of Miyoshi Yoshitsugu at Wakae Castle. Next, he went to the harbor town of Sakai in Izumi Province. Hashiba Hideyoshi and Asayama Nichijō visited with a message from Nobunaga appealing for Yoshiaki to return to Kyōto. Ekei participated in these discussions as a representative of the Mōri, but Yoshiaki requested Nobunaga provide hostages, causing the negotiations to breakdown. At this time, Ekei urged Yoshiaki not to go to the western provinces.
In 1576, after Yoshiaki moved to Tomo in Bingo Province and broke-off relations with Ukita Naoie, Ekei tried to persuade him to ally with Nobunaga, but Yoshiaki refused. While the Mōri were in a stalemate against forces led by Hashiba Hideyoshi at Takamatsu Castle in Bitchū, an event known as the Siege of Bitchū-Takamatsu Castle, Nobunaga unexpectedly died in a coup d’état orchestrated by Akechi Mitsuhide, one of his most senior commanders. Hideyoshi concealed this news, and made another settlement offer to the Mōri. In lieu of insisting on control of the provinces of Bitchū, Bingo, Mimasaka, Hōki, and Izumo, he requested the transfer of Bitchū, Mimasaka, and Hōki on the condition that Kiyomizu Muneharu, lord of Takamatsu Castle, commit seppuku. Representing the Mōri, Ekei made arrangements for a settlement based on these terms.
In a letter sent to the retainers of Mōri Terumoto on 8/22 of 1583, he stated that Ekei would not be able join a meeting in regard to provincial borders owing to the contraction of an illness by his elderly mother. This demonstrated his concern for the personal welfare of his mother above the duties of his office.
Once the news broke of the coup d’état against Nobunaga, negotiations resumed but did not result in a settlement. When the Mōri family was defeated, Kobayakawa Hidekane and Kikkawa Hiroie expressed a desire to become retainers of Hideyoshi. Consequently, these two individuals were tendered as hostages in exchange for recognition of the territory controlled by the Mōri. In anticipation of serving Hideyoshi, Ekei proactively facilitated an agreement and gained the trust of Hideyoshi.
Service as a retainer of Toyotomi Hideyoshi
Early in 1585, Ekei engaged in negotiations for the Mōri clan to formally serve under Hideyoshi for which he was praised by Hideyoshi. By this time, Ekei had already become a close associate of Hideyoshi, and after the Conquest of Shikoku, was awarded a fief of 23,000 koku in the Wake District of Iyo Province. After the Subjugation of Kyūshū in 1586, Ekei’s fief was increased to 60,000 koku. Although Ekei was a priest, he acquired the unusual status of a daimyō of the Toyotomi. In 1591, the Ankoku Temple was granted control of lands with a yield of 11,000 koku.
In addition to serving as a close associate of Hideyoshi, in the first month of 1585, Ekei, along with Kuroda Yoshitaka and Miyamoto Sōfu reached a peace agreement with the Ōtomo and Mōri clans prior to the Subjugation of Kyūshū. Ekei was dispatched to Kyūshū to give instructions to local commanders, and, upon orders of Hideyoshi, engaged in ministerial duties such as the conduct of land surveys and construction of the Senjōkaku, an auxiliary structure on the grounds of the Itsukushima Shrine. As a bushō, Ekei led forces in the Conquest of Odawara, and, in the third month of 1590, Ekei joined Wakizaka Yasuharu and Chōsokabe Motochika to attack Shimizu Yasuhide at Shimoda Castle. After a month-long hold-out by the defenders, the castle fell. At this time, signboards were posted along the Yoko River to warn sailors that violence and plunder were prohibited in that area.
Uprisings by local families in Higo Province
When local families in Higo Province caused uprisings, Ekei served as the leader of the Second Division with retainers of the Mōri family comprised of groups from Aki Province including the Kuriya, the Koshi, the Ise, the Oda, and the Hino. These soldiers followed the First Division led by Kobayakawa Hidekane, Tachibana Muneshige, Nabeshima Naoshige, and Tsukushi Hirokado. When, together with the commanders of the First Division, the army attacked Tanaka Castle defended by Hebaru Chikayuki and Wani Chikazane, Ekei convinced the Hebaru clan to collude and induced the fall of the castle.
While serving as a staff officer and as a general, Ekei (i) compelled the surrender of Kumabe Chikanaga (the leader of the uprisings), (ii) executed a scheme to take hostage Shiki Shigetsune (one of the Five Clans of Amakusa), (iii) lured Ōtsuyama Karyō of Ōtaguro Castle under the pretext of peace negotiations, and at the height of a banquet at the Yoshiji-jōman Temple, had retainers of Sassa Narimasa stab him to death and thereby eliminate the Ōtsuyama clan, (iv) called Uchikuga Shigefusa (after his surrender) to Yanagawa Castle for a banquet to celebrate the Peach Festival and had him killed, and (v) had nearby families subdue Uchikuga Fumiteru of Makino Castle.
After the conflict, Ekei appealed to have spared the lives of Sassa Narimasa, Wani Chikazane and others, but was not successful.
Bunroku-Keichō Campaign (Korea)
During the deployment of soldiers to the Korean Peninsula, Ekei joined the Sixth Unit under Kobayakawa Takakage, and led the attack on Jeolla Province in the southwest portion of the peninsula. Ekei also conducted the governance of occupied territories. At this time, he sent a letter expressing surprise at the abundance of military provisions including even a storehouse to chill saké in the summer. He taught the Japanese syllabary to children, had them change their hair to Japanese style, and employed them as servants. He participated in battles, joining Tachibana Muneshige to defeat a private army led by Jo Heon and Yeonggyu in Geumsan in Chungcheong Province north of Jeolla.
The Battle of Sekigahara and aftermath
Ekei was close to Kobayakawa Takakage who, among members of the Mōri family, was a central figure in the support of Hideyoshi. When Hideyoshi lay ill in bed during the Bunroku era (1593 to 1596), he notified a certain Yamada who was a senior retainer of the Kobayakawa family, and, in the same letter, communicated the retirement of Takakage. Ekei managed communications between Hideyoshi and Takakage, and, in the wake of Takakage’s death, expressed concern that, in the future, the Mōri could be held in disdain.
Ekei’s concern was realized when he came into conflict with Kikkawa Hiroie who was a pillar within the Mōri comparable to the Kobayakawa. In 1600, at the Battle of Sekigahara, Ekei supported Ishida Mitsunari with whom he had warm relations and joined the Western Army. Ekei succeeded in convincing Mōri Terumoto, as head of the Mōri family, to serve as the commanding general of the Western Army.
On 9/15, at the Battle of Sekigahara, Ekei joined Mōri Hidemoto and Kikkawa Hiroie to take-up positions with 700 mounted soldiers and 3,000 foot soldiers to the rear of the army of Tokugawa Ieyasu. The battle standard displayed the priest’s reed hood, the banner showed one character on a field of white. However, after earlier setting up camp, Hiroie secretly colluded with Ieyasu and impeded the Mōri army from joining the battle. When Ekei dispatched a retainer, Shiino Michisue, to inquire as to the situation, Hiroie declined to answer. In the end, he did not join the battle and the Western Army was defeated.
After the defeat, Ekei initially headed toward the main base of the Mōri, and after being admonished by Hiroie, fled and went underground in the Rokujō area of Kyōto, sheltering at the Kurama Temple and the Hongan Temple where Hashi-no-bō Akikatsu (the son-in-law of Shimotsuma Rairen) served as the abbot. Ultimately, however, Ekei was arrested by Torii Nobuaki in a unit commanded by Okudaira Nobumasa. (Nobuaki was the son of Torii Sune-emon who achieved notoriety for bravery as a messenger during the Siege of Nagashino Castle). Ekei was then taken to Ieyasu’s base in Ōtsu. As one of the leaders of the Western Army, on 10/1, Ekei was decapitated at an execution site known as Rokujō-gawara, and, along with Ishida Mitsunari and Konishi Yukinaga, had his head put on public display as a warning to others. At the time of his demise, Ekei was sixty-two or sixty-four years old.