Akechi Mitsuhide

明智光秀

Akechi Clan

Akechi Mitsuhide

Mino Province

Lifespan:  Unknown to 6/13 of Tenshō 10 (1582)

Rank:  bushō; daimyō

Title:  Junior Fifth Rank (Lower); Governor of Hyūga

Clan:  Akechi – served multiple clans

Lord:  Saitō Dōsan → Asakura Yoshikage → Ashikaga Yoshiaki → Oda Nobunaga, or

Ashikaga Yoshiteru → Ashikaga Yoshiaki → Oda Nobunaga

Father:  Akechi Mitsutsuna

Mother:  Omaki-no-kata

Adoptive Father:  Akechi Mitsuyasu or Akechi Yoriaki 

Wife: [Formal] Tsumaki Hiroko

Children:  Mitsuyoshi, Tama (formal wife of Hosokawa Tadaoki), Shizen

Akechi Mitsuhide served as a bushō and daimyō under Oda Nobunaga. Mitsuhide was selected from outside the Oda clan to become a senior retainer, but, in the end, launched a dramatic coup d’état against Nobunaga in the Honnō Temple Incident that resulted in Nobunaga’s untimely demise in 1582.  Upon hearing this news, Hashiba Hideyoshi, Nobunaga’s most senior commander, swiftly reconciled with the Mōri to end the Siege of Takamatsu Castle, and led his entire army to Kyōto to attack Mitsuhide. In an event known as the Chūgoku ōgaeshi (or Great March from Chūgoku) the army covered about 200 kilometers over a ten-day period to travel from Takamatsu in Bitchū Province to the town of Yamazaki near Kyōto.  Under one theory, Mitsuhide was captured and killed by local peasants in Ogurisu or fatally wounded and took his own life, just thirteen days after the incident.  This short-lived period as the ultimate ruler is commonly referred to as mikka denka, or the Three-Day Reign. 

Early days prior to serving the Oda

Mitsuhide’s ancestors were from the Seiwa-Minamoto clan, with the Akechi family a branch of the Minamoto and Toki clans of Mino Province, regarded as of lower status. The Toki clan served as military governors of Mino Province for over 200 years from an event known as the Kenmu no shinsei marking the end of the Kamakura bakufu, and served as the source for dozens of branch families.  According to sources, Mitsuhide was born at Akechi Castle in Mino between 1516 and 1540, with the Akechi gunki, or military chronicle, citing 1528.  His father was Akechi Mitsutsuna based in the eastern portion of Mino.  Mitsutsuna served Saitō Dōsan, but later died in an attack by Dōsan on Akechi Castle in Mino.  At the time of his father’s death, Mitsuhide was still young, so Akechi Mitsuyasu, Mitsuhide’s uncle who succeeded Mitsutsuna as lord of Akechi Castle, served as his guardian until adulthood.  Mitsuhide wed Tsumaki Hiroko.

Details of Mitsuhide’s youth are uncertain.  First, he served the Toki clan,  the military governors of Mino, as a member of a branch family.  He then served Saitō Dōsan after Dōsan usurped the Toki and took over as the military governor of Mino. This was an illustration of the phenomenon of gekokujō during the Sengoku period, whereby persons of lesser rank usurped those in higher positions of authority, either through skill, artifice, or treachery.  In 1556, Mitsuhide sided with Dōsan against his son, Yoshitatsu, in the Battle at Nagaragawa. Consequently, Yoshitatsu’s forces attacked Akechi Castle, scattering Mitsuhide’s family. According to other sources, the Akechi family was eliminated in 1552, the same year that Toki Yoriaki was banished as the military governor of Mino.  For the following decade, Mitsuhide served Asakura Yoshikage in Echizen Province.  This theory is in doubt owing to sources that indicate, in 1565, Mitsuhide defended Tanaka Castle in Takashima held by the Azai.

In 1565, Ashikaga Yoshiteru (the thirteenth shōgun of the Muromachi bakufu) was assassinated by the Miyoshi Group of Three and Matsunaga Hisahide.  This led his younger brother, Ashikaga Yoshiaki, to flee for protection to Takeda Yoshimune, his brother-in-law, shugo daimyō and head of the Takeda clan in Wakasa Province.  Soon thereafter, Yoshiaki urged assorted bushō including Oda Nobunaga to march upon Kyōto and support him as the successor to Yoshiteru. Hosokawa Fujitaka served as messenger to confirm Nobunaga’s support, but this occurred prior to the pacification of Mino Province.  In the fourth month of 1566, Yoshiaki facilitated a rapprochement between the Oda and the Saitō, but, on 8/29 of the same year, Nobunaga breached the deal by deploying troops to Mino.  This heightened Yoshiaki’s mistrust of Nobunaga, causing Yoshiaki to break ties and seek support from other daimyō including Yoshikage of Echizen, which led to contact between Yoshiaki and Mitsuhide. 

Despite pleas from Yoshiaki, Yoshikage did not choose to march upon Kyōto.  Mitsuhide persuaded Yoshiaki that he could not rely upon Yoshikage, but that he could rely upon Nobunaga.  On 6/23 of 1568, Yoshiaki approached Nobunaga again, who had since swept away control of Mino from the Saitō.  Having learned from the past failure, he made the request via Mitsuhide to march upon Kyōto and install him as the seiitai shōgun, a position of supreme shōgun above those stipulated in the existing political hierarchy.  Again, Hosokawa Fuijtaka served as the messenger, and Mitsuhide appeared in records for the first time as an intermediary with Nobunaga. Mitsuhide had a familial connection to Nobunaga because Saitō Dōsan’s wife was an aunt of Mitsuhide, and Nobunaga married Sagiyama-dono (commonly known as Nōhime), the daughter of Saitō Dōsan.  This may have helped Mitsuhide in his effort to reach an agreement between Yoshiaki and Nobunaga.

Mitsuhide served as a commander of ashigaru, or lightly armored foot soldiers. Based on the sources, Mitsuhide either served Ashikaga Yoshiteru, the shōgun, prior to serving Asakura Yoshikage, or he served Ashikaga Yoshiaki after Yoshiaki succeeded Yoshiteru as the fourteenth shōgun.  In the era of Yoshiaki, this would have been a senior role as the commander of samurai, not irregulars or peasant fighters.  It is uncertain whether Mitsuhide had risen to this level of responsibility for Yoshiaki at this time.  In the Muromachi bakufu, the Toki clan held an elevated position as the head of many branches, with more than ten families serving as hōkōshū, or in an official capacity for the bakufu. As a branch of the Toki clan, the Akechi built their own relationship with the ruling Ashikaga family.  Yoshiaki gave consideration to formal traditions in regard to clan status with respect to those in the Toki-Akechi lineage who attained positions of authority including as officials or external daimyō, known as tonosama.  Therefore, it is uncertain whether members of the Toki-Akechi family were assigned to serve in a lesser capacity with the foot soldiers.

Transition from service as a dual retainer of the Ashikaga and the Oda

On 9/26 of 1568, Mitsuhide joined the march to Kyōto as a retainer of both Yoshiaki and Nobunaga.  On 1/5 of 1569, Mitsuhide defended Yoshiaki during a surprise attack by the Miyoshi Group of Three on Yoshiaki’s base in the Battle of Honkoku Temple.  From around the fourth month of 1569, Mitsuhide joined Kinoshita Hideyoshi (later Hashiba Hideyoshi), Niwa Nagahide, and Nakagawa Shigemasa to engage in government affairs in Kyōto and its environs, serving as magistrates on behalf of Nobunaga.  In the tenth month of 1569, Nobunaga clashed with Yoshiaki over differences in opinion, whereupon Nobunaga suddenly returned to Azuchi Castle in Ōmi Province. 

In the first month of 1570, Nobunaga aimed to limit Yoshiaki’s powers by issuing a proclamation known as the denchū-onokite, comprised of twenty-one covenants.  This was addressed to Mitsuhide and Asayama Nichijō, while Yoshiaki affixed his seal of approval for return to Nobunaga.  On that same day, an official notice was sent under Nobunaga’s name to daimyō throughout the provinces stating that Nobunaga would come to Kyōto to meet with members of the Imperial Court, the shōgun, and to foster peace throughout the country so the daimyō should attend to pay their respects. On 3/1 of 1570, Nobunaga accessed the Imperial Court on a basis independent of the shōgun, and was granted official authority to bring peace to the country.

On 4/28 of 1570, Mitsuhide faced a crisis owing to betrayal by Azai Nagamasa against Nobunaga at the Battle of Kanegasaki in Echizen Province.  This caused the Oda army to retreat with Ikeda Katsumasa leading the main force of 3,000 men while Mitsuhide joined Hideyoshi to serve as the rear-guard for the departing forces. Mitsuhide was then sent to Wakasa to take a hostage from Mutō Tomomasu, destroy the castle residence, and return to Kyōto on 5/6.  Around this time, Yoshiaki acquired a manor in the town of Kuse in Yamashiro Province.  In the ninth month of 1570, Mitsuhide participated in the Shiga Campaign, in which the combined forces of the Oda and Tokugawa confronted the Asakura, the Azai, and monks of the Enryaku Temple located on Mount Hiei. During a lull in the fighting, Mitsuhide was assigned to Usayama Castle and managed an effort to pacify the Shiga District and dogō in the surrounding area.

In 1571,  while the Miyoshi Group of Three led their army on a march from Shikoku toward the capital, followers of the Ishiyama-Hongan Temple raised arms against the Oda. Mitsuhide departed for Settsu Province to oppose them on behalf of Nobunaga and Yoshiaki.  On 9/12, Mitsuhide joined the main contingent to burn down the temples on Mount Hiei, and was awarded governance of the Shiga District of Ōmi Province, whereupon he commenced construction of Sakamoto Castle.  Mitsuhide may have been a retainer of the bakufu at the time he was assigned to Usayama Castle, while the award of the Shiga District further confirmed his dual role as a retainer of Nobunaga.   In the fourth month of 1572, he continued serving Yoshiaki by contributing to the campaign in Kawachi Province.

In the second month of 1573, Yoshiaki raised arms against Nobunaga. Mitsuhide split from Yoshiaki and served as a senior retainer of Nobunaga in battles at Ishiyama Castle and Imakatata Castle. Nobunaga pursued settlement negotiations with Yoshiaki out of respect for the status of the shōgun, but Matsunaga Hisahide intervened before these could reach fruition.  When Yoshiaki continued his opposition from Makishima Castle, Mitsuhide supported Nobunaga. Following Yoshiaki’s surrender, the Muromachi bakufu came to an end.  Many former retainers of Yoshiaki including Ise Sadaoki supported Mitsuhide, and he completed Sakamoto Castle the same year.  In the seventh month of 1573, Murai Sadakatsu was placed in charge of the Kyōto-shoshidai, an office established by Nobunaga to maintain security in the Capital.  Meanwhile, Mitsuhide served as a dual magistrate, assessing taxes on temple holdings in Kyōto and its environs.  After decimation of the Asakura clan, between the eighth and ninth months, Hashiba Hideyoshi and Takigawa Kazumasu managed governance of Echizen Province, supported by Mizo-o Shigetomo, Kinoshita Sukehisa, and Tsuda Motoyoshi as daikan, or governors.  In the seventh month of 1575, Mitsuhide was awarded the Court titles of Junior Fifth Rank (Lower), Governor of Hyūga and the honorary title of Koretō Hyūga-no-kami. 

Attack on Tanba Province and the formation of an army for the Kinai Region

In 1575, Mitsuhide participated in the Battle of Takaya Castle, the Battle of Nagashino, and the campaign to eliminate uprisings by the Ikkō sect in Echizen Province.  He was further tasked with leading the invasion of Tanba Province.  Tanba was defended by kokujin occupying the valleys between long mountain ranges, making it an exceedingly difficult province to control.  The kokujin primarily supported Nobunaga until his split with Yoshiaki, after which most of them sided with Yoshiaki.  Mitsuhide first surrounded Kuroi Castle, but betrayal at the hands of Hatano Hideharu, lord of Yakami Castle, took them by surprise and caused the invaders to flee in defeat.

In the fourth month of 1576, Mitsuhide joined the Battle of Tennō Temple against warrior monks from the Ishiyama-Hongan Temple, during which the lead commander, Ban Naomasa, was killed in a counterattack.  Mitsuhide encountered danger while under attack at the fort set-up at the Tennō Temple, but was bailed-out by Nobunaga.  Over-exhausted and gravely ill, Mitsuhide faced a life or death situation.  To his fortune, Mitsuhide recovered but his wife, Hiroko, died of illness on 11/7 of 1576.

In 1577, Mitsuhide joined the campaign against the saikashū, a band of local samurai and mercenaries skilled in use of the arquebus based in Kii Province.  In the tenth month of 1577, Mitsuhide aided in the Siege of Shigisan Castle to defeat Matsunaga Hisahide, who had earlier rebelled against Nobunaga.  The Oda army soon re-entered Tanba, which led to a prolonged battle.  This began by attacking and establishing a base of operations at Kameyama Castle, and then besieging Yakami Castle. During this period, Mitsuhide traveled between battles in Tanba and other provinces.

On 4/29 of 1578, Mitsuhide was dispatched to Harima Province to provide support for Hideyoshi in his campaign against the Mōri, and, in the sixth month, joined the attack on Kanki Castle, located on the plains in the Innami District of Harima.  Mitsuhide then moved on to the Siege of Arioka Castle in Tanba following an unexpected betrayal by Araki Murashige.

In 1579, the invasion of Tanba reached its final stages, and the Oda finally captured Yakami Castle after a long siege.  On 8/9 of 1579, the invading forces toppled Kuroi Castle and finally pacified the province.  The army then quickly swept Tango Province under its control with the support of Hosokawa Fujitaka.  In 1580, Nobunaga sent Mitsuhide a congratulatory letter, and for his achievements, added Tanba Province (representing 290,000 koku), yielding a domain of 340,000 koku in total.  Nobunaga further gave him Minami-Yamashiro which had formerly been held by Ban Naomasa. Mitsuhide ordered the construction of Shūzan Castle.  He also arranged for the construction of Kameyama and Yokoyama castles, renaming the latter Fukuchiyama Castle and assigning Akechi Hidemitsu to serve as its lord.  He expanded Kuroi Castle to which he assigned Saitō Toshimitsu, an elder retainer.  In a letter to Sakuma Nobumori chastising his actions, Nobunaga expressed great admiration for Mitsuhide’s achievements in Tanba.

In addition to the reward of Tanba Province as bestowed by Nobunaga, Mitsuhide benefited by having several of the Oda daimyō from the Kinai Region serve him as mounted soldiers, including Hosokawa Fujitaka of Tango and Tsutsui Junkei of Yamato Province.  Consequently, Mitsuhide formed an army in the Kinai extending from Ōmi Province to the Sanin Region, including Tanba Province, the Shiga District, and Minami-Yamashiro.   Adding the holdings of the daimyō under his command, his domain totaled 2,400,000 koku which would be on a par with the Kantō kanrei, or a deputy of the Kamakura kubō.

In 1581, Nobunaga assigned Mitsuhide to manage the Kyōto Mounted Horse Parade (Kyōto ouma-zoroi), a large-scale military parade held to the east of the Imperial Palace in Kyōto.  Niwa Nagahide and Shibata Katsuie led the parade, which included kuge, or court nobles, skilled in the equestrian arts such as Konoe Sakihisa.  The parade was attended by Emperor Ōgimachi and served as a show of strength to local daimyō of Nobunaga’s declaration of tenka fubu, or rule the empire by force.

As a post-script to the Akechi Family Law, Mitsuhide expressed his gratitude to Nobunaga for calling upon him when he was down-and-out and for assigning to him a generous number of retainers, noting that the entire family including the grandchildren would never forget their allegiance to Nobunaga.  At a tea ceremony in early 1582, he displayed a personal writing of Nobunaga in the tokonoma. Mitsuhide became severely depressed after the death of his younger sister, Tsumaki, in the summer of 1581.  Tsumaki may have been a consort of Nobunaga, and her passing may have contributed to the later separation between Mitsuhide and Nobunaga.

On 3/5 of 1582, Mitsuhide participated in the Conquest of Kōshū, a final showdown with the Takeda clan.  Oda Nobutada, the eldest son of Nobunaga, led the main contingent in advance of other forces and he could see the outcome so returned a month later.

The Honnō Temple Incident

In the fifth month of 1582, Mitsuhide was relieved of his duties to concierge guests of Tokugawa Ieyasu, and was ordered to support Hashiba Hideyoshi in the campaign against the Mōri.   He quickly arrived for duty, but, en route, either in Kameyama Castle or near Shibano, he informed senior retainers of his intention to overthrow Nobunaga. There was a message from Mori Ranmaru that Nobunaga traveled to Kyōto to inspect the organization and equipment of the Akechi army. According to sources, the irregular troops were unaware of the plot, while others from the castle understood that Nobunaga had requested them to attack Tokugawa Ieyasu. 

On 6/2 of 1582, Mitsuhide and his men then launched a surprise attack against Nobunaga, surrounding him while he lodged at the Honnō Temple.  Mitsuhide’s army totaled as many as 13,000 troops against merely 100 or so attendants with Nobunaga.  The defenders fought valiantly, but Nobunaga killed himself after the attackers set fire to the temple. Nobunaga’s body was not found.  Thereafter, Oda Nobutada, his eldest son who was staying at the Nijō Palace, and his cousin, Saitō Toshiharu, along with Murai Sadakatsu, and his sons, Sadanari and Seiji, joined the mounted soldiers from the Oda to lead a counterattack against Mitsuhide and his men.  Tsuda Nobuzumi, Nobunaga’s nephew, was suspected of complicity owing to his marriage to Mitsuhide’s daughter, and summarily killed in Ōsaka by Oda Nobutaka, the third son of Nobunaga.

The Battle of Yamazaki and dramatic finale

Within days, Mitsuhide seized control of Kyōto and sought to banish or imprison those affiliated with Nobunaga.  He also sought to enter Nobunaga’s home base at Azuchi Castle and to subjugate Ōmi Province, but Yamaoka Kagetaka, lord of Seta Castle, burned down the Seta Bridge and his own castle, and withdrew to the Kōga District, causing the Akechi a three-day delay to build a temporary crossing.  Mitsuhide first entered Sakamoto Castle. Encountering minimal resistance in Ōmi, he entered Azuchi Castle and plundered Nobunaga’s precious items of gold and silver, offering them to his retainers and allies.  Sanehito Shinno and Yoshida Kanemi were dispatched to Azuchi as chokushi, or imperial messengers, and he entrusted them to maintain security in Kyōto.  While Mitsuhide feared riots and confusion in Kyōto,  Kanemi expected it to just lead to controversy.  Mitsuhide then left Azuchi to visit the Imperial Court in Kyōto, where he offered 500 pieces of silver, 100 pieces each to Kyōto Gozan and the Daitoku Temple, and 50 pieces to Kanemi as the imperial messenger.

Mounted soldiers from Tango Province, Nagaoka Fujitaka (formerly Hosokawa Fujitaka) and Nagaoka Tadaoki (formerly Hosokawa Tadaoki), father and son, took steps showing their refusal to cooperate.  First, they cut-off the top-knot of their hair as a symbol of mourning for the loss of Nobunaga.  Next, they communicated through Matsui Yasuyuki to Oda Nobutaka that they had no intention to betray Nobunaga.  Finally, they placed the formal wife of Tadaoki, who was the daughter of Mitsuhide, in confinement.  Meanwhile, Tsutsui Junkei, a senior retainer of Nobunaga from Yamato Province pledged his support for Hashiba Hideyoshi despite initial signs of cooperation by dispatching men to Ōmi until Hideyoshi returned to the area, owing in part to Hideyoshi’s early suppression of the Settsushū, or fighters from Settsu Province, including Takayama Ukon.

Upon receiving news of the coup d’etat against Nobunaga, Hideyoshi quickly reconciled with the Mōri and returned with his army from the Chūgoku Region in a march known as the Chūgoku ōgaeshi, arriving after ten days at Yamazaki at the base of Mount Tennō. Hideyoshi prepared himself to oust the Akechi and establish a new political authority, leading a contingent of 27,000 soldiers with individual battalions under the command of Ikeda Tsuneoki, Nakagawa Kiyohide, Oda Nobutaka, Niwa Nagahide, and Hachiya Yoritaka.   The Akechi fielded an army of 17,000 soldiers. Narrow valleys between Mount Tennō and the Yodo River limited each side from fielding no more than 3,000 men at a time, neutralizing the benefit of numerical superiority.  In addition to fatigue caused by the long journey from Bitchū Province, the rapid formation of the Hashiba army made them vulnerable to confusion and disorder in battle.  Meanwhile, local combatants allied themselves with the Akechi.  Together, these factors led to a strenuous battle for Hideyoshi.

There are various theories in regard to how the battle unfolded.   Kuroda Yoshitaka, a commander in the Hashiba army, may have established a large position on Mount Tennō aiming for a decisive victory.  Or, Hideyoshi may have stationed forces in surrounding castles, such that the largest remaining battalion would have been no more than 3,000 men under Saitō Toshimitsu, which the Akechi encircled and defeated.  Or, the Akechi may have established a base on the far side of the Koizumi River intent on channeling the Hashiba army into a narrow slot between Mount Tennō and the Yodo River, but lost after being unable to stop the army from advancing to the shores of the Yodo River.  In any event, Mitsuhide then attempted to flee under cover of darkness to the safety of Sakamoto Castle, but suffered a serious injury when pierced with bamboo spears from peasants engaged in ochimushagari,  a practice whereby locals captured and killed wandering samurai as a means to protect their villages while bartering away the belongings of their victims.  Wounded and with nowhere to turn, Mitsuhide took his own life, while his retainer, Mizo-o Shigetomo, simultaneously decapitated him according to practice and discarded his head in a bamboo forest.  This was located by local peasants who delivered it via Murai Seizō to Oda Nobutaka.  His head was displayed along with that of Saitō Toshimitsu at Awataguchi in Kyōto, and then buried near a path east of the site.

Upon hearing the news, Akechi Hidemitsu, left his post at Azuchi Castle and returned with remaining forces to Sakamoto Castle. Many of his men fled, and he determined that it would be fruitless to attempt to hold-out in the castle, so he set the castle on fire and then killed his family and himself.  Hidemitsu’s head may have been transported to Kameyama Castle in Tanba. He was memorialized at the Kokushō Temple and the Saikyō Temple.